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Add Women to Peace Talks, EU and Others Tell Taliban, Afghan Government

FIEL - Afghan women delegates attend Intra-Afghan Dialogue talks in Doha, Qatar, July 7, 2019.
FIEL - Afghan women delegates attend Intra-Afghan Dialogue talks in Doha, Qatar, July 7, 2019.

Eight countries and the European Union have encouraged the Afghan government and Taliban to make sure women participate in upcoming peace negotiations.

The grouping welcomed recent developments that seem to have smoothed the path toward the start of intra-Afghan talks, where Afghans from various political and social factions are expected to negotiate the future of the country with the Taliban.

The embassies of Australia, Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Kingdom of Norway, Sweden and Britain, and the delegation of the EU issued a joint press release calling for the inclusion of women in the process.

“History shows peace agreements are more durable and successful when women are fully integrated and engaged. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban must actively include women in all dimensions of the peace process; leadership councils, negotiating teams, consultative shuras, technical and advisory teams,” the press release read.

The document, tweeted Thursday by Swedish Ambassador to Afghanistan Caroline Vicini, also emphasized the role of men as advocates for gender equality.

“The fundamental rights of Afghan women enshrined in the Afghan constitution must be preserved and strengthened as part of the peace process. These include women’s rights to work, education, freedom of movement and association and access to health care,” it said.

Activists in Afghanistan have long feared that some of the human rights — in particular, the rights of women — may be compromised in the name of peace when negotiating with the Taliban.

The Taliban claim they believe in women’s rights to education and work but link them to Islamic laws.

In the 1990s, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, women were not allowed to go to school and had to cover themselves in public with a special loose gown called a burqa.

The militant group, through statements and interviews, has led people to believe it has evolved since then and is now more flexible on women’s rights and human rights in general.

Intra-Afghan negotiations were supposed to start on March 10 of this year, 10 days after the militant group signed a deal with the United States, but they were delayed.

The end of a political deadlock late last month between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, the announcement of a three-day cease-fire over the Muslim holy festival of Eid al Fitr, and the release of prisoners from both sides has given rise to hope the talks may start sometime this month, albeit via video conferencing due to the novel coronavirus.

Meanwhile, humanitarian aid group Médicines Sans Frontiéres, known as Doctors Without Borders, says 15 mothers were killed in last month’s attack on a maternity hospital it ran in Kabul.

“Five of these women were in labor and were minutes, or at most hours, from giving birth to their babies,” said an MSF press release issued Wednesday.