Afghanistan: Unravelling of women and girls’ rights looms as peace talks falter

Two decades of hard-won progress by Afghanistan’s women and girls is at serious risk of being unravelled, said Amnesty International, in a statement highlighting the limited involvement of women in the peace talks and the major strides on women’s rights that are now under threat.

As international troops continue to leave the country ahead of a full withdrawal on 11 September, and with talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban at an impasse, the prospects for Afghanistan’s women and girls are at a critical juncture. A new date for a high-level round of peace talks in Istanbul, postponed since April, is yet to be confirmed.

“Afghanistan is at a tipping point. As peace talks falter, the conflict continues to take the lives of civilians on an almost daily basis. Taken alongside the forthcoming withdrawal of international troops, Afghanistan is drifting towards an outcome that threatens to undo more than twenty years of progress for women and girls,” said Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director.

“Now is the time for the Afghan government and its international partners to unequivocally commit and work to ensure that women’s rights and two decades of achievement are not traded off in the peace talks with the Taliban.”

Under Taliban rule from 1996-2001, Afghan women were subjected to severe restrictions including being banned from working outside the home and appearing in public without a close male relative. Women and girls were further denied access to education and had limited access to healthcare. These restrictions still invariably apply to women in areas currently controlled by the Taliban.

While much work remains to be done, women’s rights have improved significantly since 2001. There are now 3.3 million girls in education, and women more actively participate in the political, economic and social life of the country. Despite ongoing conflict, Afghan women have become lawyers, doctors, judges, teachers, engineers, athletes, activists, politicians, journalists, bureaucrats, business owners, police officers, and members of the military.

However, Afghan women still face major obstacles to the full realization of their rights. Violence against women is rife, the participation of women at all levels of government remains limited and, according to UNICEF, 2.2 million Afghan girls still do not attend school.

In the current peace talks, which began in September 2020, the 21-member Afghan government negotiation team included only four women, with no women represented in the Taliban delegation. In the March peace conference on Afghanistan in Moscow, only one woman was included in the 16-member government delegation.

“The significant under-representation and frequent side-lining of women throughout these talks is indicative of how far there is still to go. These negotiations will shape the future for women and girls in Afghanistan and their voices must be heard. The Afghan government must ensure inclusive and meaningful participation of women in the talks,” said Yamini Mishra.