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Afghanistan: Making Peace With The Taliban At The Cost of Women’s Rights

Publication Date: 
October 8, 2010

Massouda Jalal is a psychiatrist and paediatrician based in Afghanistan. After the fall of Taliban in 2001, she emerged as a powerful voice of Afghan women and later contested the 2004 elections as a presidential candidate. Jalal was minister for women's affairs in the Hamid Karzai government for a brief while. As director of Jalal Foundation, she travels across Afghanistan to champion women's empowerment and rights. She spoke to Ashima Kaul.

In an effort to involve the Taliban in the political peace process in Afghanistan, the Karzai government recently announced a 70-member peace council, which includes some provincial leaders close to Taliban. How do you assess the development?

The world knows what Afghan women had to undergo during the Taliban regime. They are still blowing up girls' schools and throwing acid on their faces. Taliban will never guarantee women's rights, hence as an Afghan woman i see the formation of this council and reconciliatory efforts towards the Taliban as trading off women's rights for peace in Afghanistan. We will never allow this, hence we reject the council. There should not be any talks with Taliban who're against women's freedom. Secondly, the peace council does not have a single woman in it. Afghan women demand an inclusive peace process.

What is your suggestion for that to happen?

Let us first of all think of what we inherited from the women who struggled before us. The government should include women who are in the government and outside from different backgrounds who have contributed during the last 10 years in rebuilding Afghanistan. We have to recognise women's contribution in the peace process. The United Nations should continue keeping track of the implementation of international commitments such as the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing Platform for Action. The UN should keep on making statements whenever the rights of women in Afghanistan are violated. The UN should support the development of a critical mass of women leaders in all sectors of my country. But we should also continue talking and getting the support of men and imparting among young boys the value of egalitarian relations between females and males. This will help in pursuing a holistic agenda for peace and development in the country.

Do you have a message for the Asian women? How can they support the struggle for rights?

There is a saying that sisterhood is global. The women have no particular country because the country of the women is the whole world. No matter where you go, women are disadvantaged, except in Nordic countries perhaps. So, the cause of the Afghan women is the cause of women all over the world. You cannot say that you have succeeded in improving the status of women unless the status of the Afghan women has improved. The international community including the Asian women, especially women groups from India and Pakistan, can support Afghan women by collectively protesting against the compromise the government might strike with the Taliban for the sake of a so-called peace process in Afghanistan.

When I was minister for women, parliament would always think about abolishing the ministry. But with the help of the international community, the ministry of women continues to exist in Afghanistan. We have struggled to include a law on elimination of violence against women in the Constitution. We are afraid that these may be diluted in future. Asian women and the international community can keep the pressure on and ensure that women's rights are not traded off for the reintegration of the Taliban and their reconciliation with the government.