Yesterday in London an international conference was held on Afghanistan to discuss the future of the political arena and whether or not to negotiate with members of the Taliban. Leaders of 65 different nations attended, as did non-state organizations such as the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Afghanistan. Many countries in attendance seemed to be leaning towards an effort to include some low to mid-level Taliban members by seducing them with financial incentives. President Hamid Karzai suggested this strategy, and $140 million has already been raised to fund the reintegration, $50 million coming from Japan.
On the other side, however, in strong opposition to the plan, were UNIFEM and other Afghan women’s groups. Since the Taliban fell from power, women have made incremental but significant achievements towards full integration into society. With the majority of Afghan girls still without primary education, however, there is still a long way to go. Many women fear, and with good reason, that if members of the Taliban become reintegrated back into society and politics, these few rights that they have attained will be taken away again.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton included a stipulation regarding women’s rights when she spoke at the conference in London. The Women’s Action Plan recognizes that women must be included in the negotiating process and includes initiatives to increase women’s security, participation in politics, and access to basic human rights such as education and medicine.
Mrs. Clinton’s plan is an important one, but it might not be enough. Although women’s rights were mentioned in passing by some other nations, they did not give it the attention it deserves. Afghan women wonder why the conference did not include more representation from those who will be most affected by this change: the women.
In order for Afghanistan to rebuild itself, women must be involved and must play a leading role. Without sufficient education for most of the women population, this is near impossible. Barakat aims to not only provide education, but also to provide women with a comfortable and acceptable environment to learn. Since parents are often skeptical about co-ed schooling, Barakat makes sure that women have either their own classrooms, or can meet at a neighbor’s house for classes.
While the constitution calls for 25% female representation in parliament, Afghan’s parliament is far from meeting this goal: only three names have been put forward by women in the election. This is understandable considering women still have little education, health care, and access to the justice system. They are also struggling against a society that is not accustomed to women in high-power positions. It seems doubtful that including members of the Taliban back into the system will be helpful. World leaders seem to have forgotten that these are the same men that denied a woman the right to get an education, hold a job, or even show her face in public.