The role of women in a peace deal for Afghanistan

Opinion Piece by Rabia Nasimi
August 1, 2019
Afghan women play symbolic role in peace talks. | Photo: Reuters

The role of women in a peace deal for Afghanistan

During the seventh round of peace talks with Taliban leaders,Afghanistan remains in a state of flux. Negotiations are taking on a new focus in the latest attempt to end the 18-year war. But we cannot have peace at any price – the rights of women from Afghanistan under the current constitution must be further improved in any deal. The future of women’s rights and role in society is one of the most pressing issues in the ongoing negotiations and it so far, has been for the most part side-lined.


Women’s rights under the Taliban

Following the emergence of the Taliban in the 1990s, women and girls were discriminated against. They were unable to go to school, work or leave the house without a male chaperone and even today, as described by activist and academic from Afghanistan Spogmai Akseer: “women are silent and passive victims of their culture, their men and their politics”.

However, since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan has come so far in women’s right sand gender equality in many parts of the country. Millions of girls have enrolled in schools, women have earned seats in national and regional councils, and their participation in the workforce has increased significantly. Even every day freedoms such as walking in the local area unaccompanied as a woman, is now seen as a privilege because it was forbidden for so long.

For as long as I can remember, women have publically said they want to be a part of the future of Afghanistan, eager to participate in politics and society, which is why I am proud to support a movement thousands of people have joined – #MyRedLine. This is a movement where women and men across the country are speaking out about the freedoms and rights they are not willing to give up in the name of peace with the Taliban. We should continue to be inspired by this and many incredible women from Afghanistan such as Fawzia Koofi and Shaharzad Akbar who are catalysts for change.

Previously Afghanistan was known by some for being a forward thinking country when it comes to women’s rights and it should stay that way as the country continues to move forwards. Women were first eligible to vote in1919 ­­­– only a year after women in the UK were given the right and a year before women of the US were eligible. Education for women has also been at the forefront Afghanistan’s agenda particularly in the mid-20th century. In 1947 Kabul University was opened to girls with an estimated 150,000 girls enrolled in schools across the country by 1973.


Current peace negotiations

The fact the Taliban have even joined the table to discuss peace shows they have evolved as an organisation from when they first took power over twenty years ago.  In a play to project a softer image during the peace negotiations, in recent times theTaliban claim they are not against the education or employment of women. As keyTaliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said “they will have all their rights.Whether it is right for education or it is right for work, they will have it according to Islamic rules”. But what does this really mean for women? Arecent UNICEF report showed the rate of children dropping out of schools has increased for the first time in 2002, with girls accounting for 72%of this figure. Many female activists are sceptical of their current claims versus the reality of what life would be like under a negotiated settlement with them.


Women’s role in Afghanistan society

In Afghanistan 28 per cent of parliament seats belong to women, which is 7 per cent higher than surrounding countries such as Iran and Pakistan according to The World Bank Group. So I ask myself why is there alack of female participation in these peace talks and why are their rights not being stood up for more overtly? I wouldn’t want to be recognised as someone’s sister or daughter, but a woman with a voice, so it shouldn’t be any different for the women of Afghanistan. The dialogue so far has been focused on the US withdrawing troops in Taliban areas, and the Taliban in return agreeing not to provide a safe haven for other dangerous groups such as Daesh, but key societal foundations such as justice, schools, health and education need to be considered more closely. We see women are now increasingly playing prominent roles in the government, media, art and culture in many areas of Afghanistan and they’re facing the real possibility that the rights they have won could soon be overturned if the Taliban surface again.

Without going into detail about the specific ‘gains’, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has publically announced, “we've been clear that success or failure of the bilateral relationship andAfghanistan's relationship with the international community including the donor community will rest in part on what Afghans do to maintain the civil rights of women and minorities and preserve the gains of the last 18 years”. Women’s role in this round of talks is therefore a necessity, to secure a stronger and more peaceful existence, which Afghanistan has been desperately trying to achieve.  

I’m confident the women and people of Afghanistan will continue to stand up for the rights of women, not just by the notable Red Line movement, but by those who have greater means of making change, because as Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the US Senate armed services committee said “the inclusion of women would be vital for future international support for Afghanistan”. We should recognise that women face discrimination all over the world, but in such a timely period in Afghanistan’s history, we need to be reminded of the essential role of women as active participants in developing and securing a peace deal that is right for everyone. That’s #MyRedLine.

Rabia Nasimi, a PHD student at the University of Cambridge is a firm believer that the people of Afghanistan will continue to break boundaries, especially in gender equality.


Rabia Nasimi, Strategic Development Manager at the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA) and a PHD student at the University of Cambridge. For more information about Rabia Nasimi and the work of the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association, please visit: https://acaa.org.uk/