Afghan women excluded from peace talks with Taliban: aid agency

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 23, 2014 10:28 PM

By Jessica Donati

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan women are excluded from efforts to negotiate peace with the Taliban and hard-won rights could be bargained away unless more is done to include them in the process, aid agency Oxfam said in a report on Monday.

In 23 rounds of peace talks tracked by Oxfam since 2005, not one Afghan woman participated in discussions between the Taliban and international negotiators.

In talks between the Taliban and the government, only one Afghan woman was present on two occasions, Oxfam said.

"Negotiations and peace talks to date have taken place predominantly behind closed doors and without Afghan women's knowledge, input or involvement," the report said.

Under the hardline, Islamist Taliban government ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001, women were banned from education, employment and public life.

Significant gains made over more than a decade of foreign intervention are now at risk or have already been rolled back, Oxfam said, and the dialogue so far had missed the opportunity to stress the importance of protecting women's rights.

"It is clear that women's rights have been a low priority," the report said.

Just nine of 70 members of the Afghan High Peace Council are women, and their role is largely symbolic, according to Oxfam, which advocates a 30 percent minimum threshold for female inclusion.

The Taliban said on Sunday it was in favor of including women in both the talks and any future government, but only once all foreign troops had left Afghanistan. Under the current plan, U.S. and other foreign forces will stay on throughout 2016.

"If invasion is over and Afghans have a chance to build their own system, then each and every individual, man and woman, in this country can play a role in it,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters.

While Afghans and foreign donors alike are optimistic that new president Ashraf Ghani will do more to protect women's rights, there has been little obvious improvement so far.

Women made up only a small fraction of delegations accompanying Ghani on his first foreign trips to regional powers China and Pakistan, described as part of his effort to revive peace talks with the Taliban.

"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,” Oxfam country director John Watt said in the report.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Maria Golovnina and Stephen Powell)