By Zarifa Sabet
Armed conflicts primarily fought by men, who are killed or injured, but women are the victims of war in different ways and therefore have different needs at conflict resolution and peace process. Many women lost their lives or lost their husbands and children, and thus their jobs, education opportunities, and many other professional development opportunities and they are disproportionately displaced by violence. Many women struggle with poverty as result four decades of conflict and instability. Rape is one of the weapon of war, and in some places women may be sexually assaulted.
Four decades of war and instability have costed the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. Afghanistan’s women paid a very high price during four decades of war and instability in the country. Starting from Soviet invasion in Afghanistan (1979-1989), Afghanistan’s Civil Wars (1989 – 1996), Taliban’s rule (1996-2001) and the U.S.-led military intervention in Afghanistan.
The disastrous consequences of many decades of war have weighed heavily on the women of Afghanistan. Through years of fighting, destruction and displacement, Afghan women have struggled with poverty to support and sustain their families. They have been subjected to a wide range of human rights and gender based discriminations and abuses such as rape and sexual assault, forced marriage, and many other discriminations perpetrated by different parties to the Afghanistan’s conflict. Women have been publicly harassed, intimidated, beaten and publicly executed by insurgents for carrying out activities deemed to be anti-Islamic.
Under the Taliban rule, women are being denied completely from public participation, and they banned girls and women to get education and have employment opportunities.
During the Taliban era women and girls are completely restricted inside the houses and they could not go out without being accompanied by male family members or Mahram. All Afghan political groups have used the status of women as a political tool to claim legitimacy or popularity.
After all these sufferings U.S. involvement was a turning point for women rights in the country and a hope to end the 20 years of conflict in the country. 20 years ago American invaded Afghanistan and George Bush declared the war on terror, one of the main aim of this war was to protect women’s rights in the country and the first lady Lura Bush in her radio address announced “the fight against terrorism is also a fight for the right and dignity of women”.
During Barack Obama administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “the preconditions for U.S. negotiations with the Taliban included the Taliban’s renunciation of al-Qaida and their commitment to uphold the Afghan constitution and protect women’s rights”.
0 years after Taliban removed from power, in spite of so many restrictions for women in some urban areas of the country have relative freedoms for instance, freedom of mobility, girls are going to schools, women have the opportunity to work, and currently there are ten thousand Afghan women employed in defense and security sectors
US and Taliban Peace Deal and its Negative Impact on Women
February, 29, 2020 US and the Taliban signed a historic peace deal in Doha to end twenty years’ of conflict in the country. Following the US-Taliban peace deal the intra Afghan talk began in September, 12, 2020, from the 21 Afghanistan ‘s government negotiators, only four are women. There was not even a single woman from the Taliban delegates and it shows that their approaches toward women have not been changed yet. Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani established the High Council for National Reconciliation headed by Abdullah Abdullah, a higher supervisory body to monitor and direct the negotiating team. Out of 46 members only nine are women, while former warlords and older male powerbrokers dominate in the list. The Doha talk ended without any concrete results. 12 top Afghan politicians and Jahadi leaders led by Head of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah on march this year left Kabul for Moscow to attend a proposed multilateral conference with the Taliban in the Russian capital. Among 12 men there was only one woman. It shows that women and other victims of war and conflict are not represented sufficiently in peace process and it is elite men and Jehadi leaders who decide for the future fate of women in the country.
The security situation deteriorated after peace talk began in 2021. Many women and girls lost their lives in suicide attacks, many women journalist, women in defense and security sectors, civil activists, new born children and mother in intensive care beds, and women lawyers have been targeted and killed.
Human Right Watch Report highlights, threats and attacks against journalists across the country have increased sharply since talks began between the Afghan government and the Taliban. NAI that support open media in Afghanistan reports, with increasing security threats in 2020, 200 women journalist left their jobs and 15 women journalist fled the country. NAI figures also suggests that 17% of media employee are women but after the peace talk began the number of women’s journalists have dramatically decreased from 1900 to 1700 women. In big cities such as Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e Sharif, Qandahar and Jalalabad women journalists are restricted inside their offices. In 2020, 50 media has been close down and 200 employees of the medias have left their jobs. This report, also highlights, journalists, human rights activists, civil society activists and government employee, particularly women are deliberated targeted by Taliban forces.
In spite of all these challenges, Afghanistan’s women are not the helpless victims of war and conflict, but they are strong agents of change, in spite poverty, cultural and social restriction with limited freedom, opportunities and resources they had outstanding achievements in short period of time. As BBC Persian report, currently there are about four million girls are going to school and more than I lakh girls are going to universities, about ten thousand women are working security sectors, and about one lakh and four thousand are civil servants. There are women who cross the social and traditional norms, they became entrepreneur, pilot, sport women and took many other occupations which are not expected of women in traditional society like Afghanistan.
In spite of some achievements in term women’s right in the country still there are many challenges against women and girls, particularly in rural areas. Researches shows that, instead of economic, social, and political empowerment, Afghan women in rural areas where an estimated 76 percent of the country’s women live experience the devastation of bloody and intensifying fighting between the Taliban and government forces and local militias. There is a huge gap between urban and rural women. There is a small change for the life of Afghanistan’s women in urban areas, but for many rural women, actual life has not changed much from the Taliban era. They are still fully dependent on men for permission to access health care, attend school, and work.
Typically, families allow their girls to have a primary or secondary education usually up to puberty after they remain at home or get marriage.
One of the main purposes of US intervention to Afghanistan was to protect women’s rights in the country, but after 20 years of American presence in Afghanistan women still does not have any decision making and meaningful role in all process particularly in peace process. When it comes to rural women, it is completely a different story.
On 14 April, Biden administration announced US troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan on, 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that drew the United States into its longest war. On his statement he said “Afghanistan should not be used as base to attack our homeland again, we did that and we accomplished that objective”. As per Biden statement the war on terror was to protect American homeland and he said noting about protecting women’s rights and human’s rights after their withdrawal from Afghanistan. Women rights were used by Bush Administration to legitimize their intervention in Afghanistan.
Women are still being publicly executed in Taliban control areas, The Taliban group’s deputy chief, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, said in a speech late last year: “The only work done under the shadow of occupation, in the name of women’s rights, is the promotion of immorality and anti-Islamic culture.” Taliban and other insurgent groups even targeting children and their mothers in hospitals. On May 12, 2020 gunmen attacked the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-run maternity wing of the Dasht-e Barchi hospital in Kabul, Official numbers indicate that 24 people were killed and at least 20 more injured, a large majority of them patients. MSF confirm that 26 mothers were hospitalized at the time of the attack. Eleven were killed; three of them in the delivery room with their unborn babies. Five others were injured. Among the dead are two young boys and an MSF midwife. Two newborn babies were wounded, as well as three Afghan MSF staff.
US did not put any condition for the Taliban upon their withdrawal from Afghanistan. The only condition was, US soldier should not be attacked by the Taliban and Taliban fulfilled this condition. It shows that Afghan civilian women, men and children should pay the price for such deals which compromise the human’s right and women’s rights in the country.
As per US-Taliban, US put so much pressure on Afghanistan government to release 5000 most dangerous Taliban prisoners and immediately after their release they returned back to battle field stronger than before and continue to kill Afghan women, men and children. After 20 years of US presence to bring security, and human rights values in Afghanistan, still people are suffering only the name of suffering has changed during the Taliban era Afghanistan’s women, men and children are killed in the name of religion, and now Afghanistan’s women, men and children are killed in name of occupied country or land. Taliban justifies their violence and saying they are fighting against foreign invaders while they were targeting Afghan’s civilian’s women, men and children.
(UNAMA) documented 5,939 civilian women and men killed and injured (2,117 killed and 3,822 injured) from 1 January to 30 September 2020. According to this report, child casualties totaled 2,619 (30%) and women 1,146 (13%). More women were killed in the conflict in 2020 than any year. “2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict,” said Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.
Total number of 10900 Afghan security forces have been killed in 2021 and it was one the deadliest year for Afghanistan National Security Forces. Taliban deteriorated their attacks on Afghanistan security forces and civilians. After 20 years of American presence to bring security and liberate women and men in this country, the death tolls of civilians are increasing. Afghanistan is one of deadliest place to be civilians, the same as for Afghanistan security forces. After February 8, 2020 not a single US Troop killed in combat in Afghanistan. It shows how hypocrites Taliban are, they announced fight against foreign invaders, but instead they are killing defenseless, women, men and children of this country.
In short, the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan faces highly uncertain prospects, and most likely women’s rights will deteriorate. With US withdrawal from Afghanistan and peace agreement with the Taliban the future fate of Afghan women is so uncertain while protecting and empowering women was a justification for war on terror by US and NATO. US spent a lot of money and had a high casualty of its troops in Afghanistan and now they are going to give the ground to the Taliban.
The main question is, did the war on terror to liberate Afghanistan men and women worth it? If Taliban come back to power or Afghanistan go to a civil war, won’t it be a complete failure for both Afghanistan government and US and NATO. In this between it is again people who have to pay cost for the war. Did the US accomplish their promises for human rights and women’s rights in the country while they want to leave? There is no any mechanism to protect the 20 years’ achievements in the country after US exit from Afghanistan.
However, I am not very optimistic about the results of future peace talks because Taliban has not changed but still future talks need to be inclusive with effective and meaningful participation of women, minorities and all other victims of war and conflict. Women voices are mostly ignored in conflict resolution and peace process while the Afghan women paid the highest price for decades of war and instability and they should decide for their own future fate. Afghan’s women want peace, but not at the price of their rights and freedoms.
*Zarifa Sabet has a Master’s Degree in International Relation from South Asian University in New Delhi, India. She has been working in Afghanistan for women rights for couples of years. Zarifa is currently working as Gender Advisor with Wildlife Conservation Society, Afghanistan. She has also worked as a Senior Gender and Youth Outreach Advisor for USAID/SHAHAR in Afghanistan. She has several credible publications to her credit and writes extensively on Human Right, Women Right and Child Right in Afghanistan. This article earlier appeared in Euro Asia Review weblog.
By Zarifa Sabet