Afghan women are consistently excluded from Afghanistan’s peace negotiations and formal talks about the country’s future, international agency Oxfam said today. Unless this discrimination is reversed, peace will be unsustainable, Afghanistan’s development will be compromised, and enormous human rights gains made since the fall of the Taliban will remain under threat.
In a new report released today, “Behind Closed Doors,” Oxfam tracked 23 known peace talks held between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and the international community since 2005. It found that during talks between the international community and the Taliban, not one Afghan woman had been involved.
During talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, women were present on only two occasions.
By freezing out women from the peace and development process, Afghanistan’s Western supporters are breaking promises made 13 years ago to support women’s empowerment. Oxfam said that unless Afghan women are given an active role, a legacy of the Afghan war will be Afghan women’s eventual suppression into poverty, directly undermining Afghanistan’s future prosperity.
Today Afghan women are still exchanged to settle disputes amongst families. They suffer some of the highest levels of violence ever seen in the country. Laws designed to protect their rights are under threat, and parliamentary quotas for women are dropping.
Oxfam’s Country Director for Afghanistan John Watt said: “The international community used women’s rights to help justify its presence in Afghanistan. Having brought about some improvements and investing more than $100 billion in aid, it would be a tragedy if progress was reversed. As donors rush to the exit, Afghans should not have to worry that the world will forget promises made to Afghan women and allow women’s rights to be negotiated away.”
As the possibility of a new round of peace talks gains momentum under a new Afghan government, Oxfam is concerned that a sustainable peace agreement will not be possible if women are denied a stake in negotiations.
“Undoubtedly, with the help of international aid and support, many Afghan women have made enormous changes in their lives in the last decade. Women are working as doctors, police chiefs, members of parliament and teachers. A record number of girls are in school. But millions more women in rural and isolated areas have not seen any changes. In some instances there has been a roll-back in any rights they may have gained,” Watt said.
“From the villages where we work to the highest levels of government we can see just how fragile women’s rights are. With new peace talks just around the corner, it’s time for the Afghan government and their Western allies to once again champion women’s leading role in Afghanistan’s future. They cannot fail them now and decide their future behind closed doors.”
Oxfam first provided support to projects in Afghanistan in 1964, and has been directly providing humanitarian and development assistance in the country since 1991, including during Taliban rule. In the period 2010-2011, Oxfam helped 300,000 through its humanitarian, development and policy and advocacy work to help people address the challenges of everyday life: finding enough to eat, sending their children to school and coping with conflict and disasters. Oxfam works in seven provinces, directly through our staff in two provinces, and through our partners in the others. We aim to help people sustain good livelihoods, reduce the impact of crises and disasters and empower women and girls socially and economically.
More than a decade since the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Although progress has been made, almost 40 percent of the population continues to live in extreme poverty, one out of every five Afghan children will not live to see their fifth birthday and Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Government institutions are often weak and unable to deliver basic services. Women’s participation in public life remains limited and Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman.