Since the beginning of the peace talks, issues related to women has become a matter of concern to many citizens, especially women.
In an interview with the CSHRN, Shahrzad Akbar said that it is important for both sides of the peace negotiations to reach a common understanding of the position of women in society. She added that the Taliban need to be aware of the realities of the changes that have taken place in Afghanistan and express their views and suggestions with regards those realities. She believes that both negotiators should remember issues such as: the reality of Afghan society, the international obligations, and the reality of women’s lives in Islamic societies and the state of law in these diverse societies.
CSHRN: Do you think that the very presence of women in peace talks will affect the Taliban’s view with regards to women?
Akbar: It is very important for women to be part of the peace process so that not only their voices are heard and their presence is not denied. Although women’s presence in the negotiations is a very good step, their number is insufficient. I really admire these women, their task is hard and there are pressures on them. However, when it comes to women’s rights, we should expect all members of the negotiating team, not just female representatives, to address women’s legal issues. Women’s right is part of human rights issue and it affects all the people of Afghanistan. With half of the population of the country deprived of their basic rights, the country’s economy, political stability, the growth of the country and its relationship with the world will be affected. Therefore, every issue of women’s rights is directly related to our individual lives.
CSHRN: Some believe that if the Taliban impose restrictions on women’s rights for a peace agreement, it should be accepted. What is your opinion on this?
Akbar: I think that the causes of the war in Afghanistan must be addressed first. The reason for war in Afghanistan is not women’s employment or sports. The Taliban too, understands that women’s presence in various fields is not the main issue. The main issue for the Taliban is the share of their political power and not a girl’s athletic activities or work. Regarding legal issues, no group can compromise human rights issues in Afghanistan. The government has the right to decide. for example, on the appointment of the governor of a province or the minister of justice from the Taliban’s team. However, the government has no right to say that on behalf of the people of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, we promise that girls will no longer study or participate in athletic activities.
CSHRN: The Taliban have repeatedly referred to issues such as gender segregation in educational institutions. What do you think?
Akbar: The Taliban can advocate for their views through legal mechanisms. There is a clear mechanism for changing a view to a mechanism and discussing it at the negotiations is not the solution. The peace negotiation is not meant for legislation, but for ending the conflict and achieving peace. Issues such as the structure of government and the division of political power are discussed in the talks. Citizen’s rights are not negotiable because negotiating teams have no authority to change the law. Laws are the result of negotiation between different spheres of society, including religious scholars, and human rights activists. Therefore, laws are not based on the view of a specific group. I think it is dangerous to discuss our legal rights at the negotiating table.
CSHRN: What is the status of violations of women’s rights, including summary trials and other violations in the Taliban-held areas?
Akbar: We have very little access to these areas to collect statistics on the human rights situation of women. Human Rights Commission collects statistics of violence only by examining complaints. The statistics we share are not comprehensive on violence against women rather, it is based on complaints that reach us. In areas where the Taliban are present, women are not allowed to register their complaints; they may not have easy access to telephones and other means of communication to share their problems. As a result, when a woman in a Taliban-held area is subjected to domestic violence and harm, we do not have a clear picture of exactly what will happen to her after that. The only things we know about are the summary trials and the stoning of women, because this type of violence makes headlines and reaches us. At least between ten and twenty cases can be documented each year, but we also have undocumented cases.
CSHRN: How has the statistics of this violence changed since the beginning of the peace talks?
Akbar: There has been no significant change so far. However, we should also look at report at the end of the year and compare it with statistics of the last year to learn about changes. But one of the things we have come to realize as a whole is that since the signing of the US-Taliban peace agreement, targeted assassinations have increased compared to previous years, which is a human rights violation. Unfortunately, in the past year, several of our colleagues, including a lady, have been the victims of these targeted assassinations.
Network: What do you think will be the situation of women and summary trials with the participation of the Taliban in power?
Akbar: The legal status of women after the peace agreement depends on the fate our mechanisms and legal structure in light of the constitution. Despite being a sensitive issue, women’s legal rights are not separate from human rights.
Afghanistan has made significant progress in access to information and freedom of expression, and our laws are much better legally, and they are good laws in the region. Our penal code is closer to human rights law than ever before, one example of which still needs to be worked on is the criminalization of gynecological examinations. Many of the things the Taliban do in the areas under their control are torture and unacceptable. In sum, the fate of women makes sense in the larger context that is the fate of our constitution and legal structure. If the debate between the Taliban and the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is about how to participate in the power structure, it is a different debate; But if the debate is about what will change in the future of Afghanistan as a political system and a legal system, the consequences for the minorities, women, the media and the country’s judicial structure are broader.