Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 66, 8 April 2020

Afghanistan: Peace Deal is a Return to Regression for Women
Sukanya Bali

In the news

On 6 April, the International Crisis Group briefings on the ongoing peace process in Afghanistan focused on what the peace deal means for the women of Afghanistan. A third in the series, the briefing questioned whether the intra-Afghan talks would include the rights, status, and liberty of the Afghan women. The briefing is an early warning on the challenges that both the Afghan government and the Taliban would face in the coming days of the intra-Afghan talks.

On 29 February, the US and the Taliban signed a peace deal that focuses on four major commitments that include withdrawal of foreign troops; prevent Afghanistan for being used as a safe harbour for terrorists, permanent ceasefire and Intra Afghan talks. The deal has been in discussions from the past 18 months, and since the beginning, the issue of women and the minorities has gained lesser attention.

Issues at large

The deal paves way for the Taliban's return to governance at some level in Afghanistan, after the intra-Afghan talks. With the Taliban's possible return to power, there is uncertainty over the rights of women in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban's rule, before the US invasion in Afghanistan, women were subjected to harsh restrictions like strict dress code, no formal education, employment and harsh punishment like stoning.

Several strides towards securing the rights of women and minorities were made since the US invasion. Eighteen years after the US invasion, 3.5 million girls attend school, women hold 27 per cent of civil service jobs and improved access has halved the deaths during childbirth. As per the report, there are chances that the rights of women will be in jeopardy after the peace process. Taliban's strict interpretation of Islam and legal order, curtail the liberty of women and minorities.

In perspective

First, in the past 18 years, there has been a slight drift in the Taliban's formal policy towards the education of girls. The girls in the Taliban controlled territories attend schools till puberty. Taliban has indicated that they would not re-impose erstwhile rules enforced by their Ministry of Propagation Virtue and Prevention of Vice. However, the Taliban lacks a clear policy towards the rights of women in post-war Afghanistan and there is ambiguity about the stand Taliban would take in the intra-Afghan talks. According to the World Population view, Afghanistan has around 48.68 per cent of women population, with 12 per cent of the minority populations. Presently, women hold 27 per cent of civil service jobs which makes the decision over them unavoidable.

Second, the women in Afghanistan have voiced mixed views. According to the report, urban women are more sceptical about the Taliban's mainstreaming than rural women who are more concerned about the end to the bloodbath. Some women do not consider the Taliban as enemies and also credit them for restoring order in the mid-1990s. The rights of women will likely be one of the most contentious issues in intra-Afghan talks.

Third, as the Taliban has expressed interest in the inflow of aid, it is unlikely that they would enforce harsh restrictions on women as they did in the 1990s. 

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