War-weary women in Afghanistan have unleashed an unprecedented campaign to seek an immediate cessation of hostilities and defend the freedom they have gained over the past decade in the mostly conservative and male-dominated Afghan society. The move comes amid intensifying fears the Islamist Taliban would try to regain power after NATO combat troops withdraw from the country in December.
Afghanistan’s nearly four-year-long peace effort, made through a High Peace Council of prominent Afghan personalities, has so far failed to persuade the Taliban to end its insurgency and join a political reconciliation process.
The lack of progress has prompted the women's wing of the panel to undertake a rare peace initiative of its own, providing a glimmer of hope for traditionally and socially oppressed Afghan women.
A Council member, parliamentarian Golalei Nur Safi, is at the forefront of the campaign, called ‘Voice of Afghan Women for Peace and Cease-fire’. She told VOA their mission is to urge the government and Taliban-led opposition groups, as well as international forces, to try to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the conflict as soon as possible.
Safi said the campaign was launched early this month and Afghan women are joining it in large numbers every day. She added that despite security concerns, women volunteers are making serious efforts to secure as many signatures as possible from female members of Afghan society on a piece of paper carrying a message of peace.
“We go door-to-door also and also [arrange] some meetings between the women. And the group of volunteers they go to the people, to the society, to the schools, to the universities, to the workplaces, and they tell [them] about the message that we want peace and [a] cease-fire. We have hundreds of women, they are working like volunteers to take the signature from the women and until now we have more than 120,000 signatures,” said Safi.
Organizers say copies of the signatures will be submitted to President Hamid Karzai, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon and representatives of the Taliban.
Safi said they have also taken their demands to candidates taking part in the upcoming Afghan presidential elections.
“We talk to every candidate about this campaign and we tell our message to them that Afghan women they are very tired from the war and we want peace,” said Safi.
She said that after more than a decade of political empowerment at different levels, Afghan women are determined not allow anyone violate their rights, be it the government or the Taliban. The lawmaker reiterated that women must be made part of political decision-making process to ensure their rights are protected in the search for a peaceful way out of the crisis facing Afghanistan.
“We expect that the rights of women are not violated once again that we have achieved and accomplished in the last ten years in Afghanistan. And we believe that the rights of women will not be jeopardized once again as it was a decade ago and these rights shall be respected and should be promoted despite starting or convening the peace negotiations with the Taliban,” she said.
The Afghan civil war of the 1990s that paved the way for the Taliban to seize power and impose their brand of strict Islamic law critically undermined female rights in the war-shattered country. The Taliban banned women from workplaces and prohibited girls’ education during their five year rule.
It is estimated that until the U.S.-led military coalition ousted the Taliban from power in 2001, there were fewer than one million Afghan children in school, and all of them were boys. Recent local and foreign studies show that international assistance has since helped the country raise the number of students close to eight million; more than a third of that 8 million are girls. Meanwhile, improvements to health facilities has brought down the maternal mortality rate by 80 percent and Afghan women are now running their own businesses.