Afghan Women at The Heart of the Quest for Peace
Thursday, 28, Jan 2010 07:35
In the relatively quiet media centre at today's Afghanistan conference in London, it was a small group of female Afghan civil society activists which managed to command all the attention.
One was Selay Ghaffar, from Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan, who was interviewed by inthenews.co.uk earlier.
Most early discussion of the conference focused on president Hamid Karzai's proposal for the "reintegration" of Taliban insurgents into society. However, by the final press conferences this afternoon questions were being asked about the potential impact of such a move on Afghanistan's women.
The Taliban regime was notorious for its treatment of women, banning them from appearing in public without the burqa and preventing them from acquiring any sort of further education or employment. Today, Afghan women are officially free of such impediments. In September 2009 Helmand province, in southern Afghanistan, even admitted the first female recruits into the Afghan police force.
However, many worry that if the Afghan government focuses its attention on winning over the more moderate members of the insurgency, its dedication to improving the conditions of women within the country may suffer. Ms Ghaffar told inthenews.co.uk that if the Taliban were reintegrated, women "will be sitting back in our homes behind the curtains".
The hosts of the conference were keen to emphasise this afternoon that such a scenario would never unfold. David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, stated firmly that any reintegration would be contingent on insurgents accepting the Afghan constitution, in which women's rights are enshrined. The outgoing United Nations special representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, was even more emphatic. "We cannot compromise [the human rights of any Afghans]", he said, let alone half of the population.
As was expected, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton returned to the issue when making her statement at the close of the conference. Women were crucial to bringing stability to Afghanistan, she said, which was the women's action plan she was unveiling was so important. This plan was a "comprehensive, forward-looking agenda" in stark contrast to al-Qaida's tactic of using women as suicide bombers. It would improve women's security, access to the judicial system and education, positions of leadership in the public and private sector, and ability to take advantage of increasing economic opportunity in the country.
As the grand finale to her press conference, Mrs Clinton asked the four Afghan women to stand to general applause. The finishing touch appeared to underline that, at least rhetorically, international leaders view the rights of Afghan women as inviolable in the search for peace.