President Hamid Karzai recently outlined proposals that could see the Taliban share power in Kabul. What should not be forgotten is the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001. That period in Afghanistan was characterised by brutality, a medieval style of ‘justice' and gross violations of rights — particularly women's, rights.
Women were barred from all public activities and could leave home only when accompanied by a male relative. They were, as a matter of policy, denied schooling and even medical aid since the Taliban decreed that they could only be attended by female medics. The latter were a scarce commodity given that women were prevented from attending educational institutions and kept away from the workplace. Perceived breaches of ‘Islamic law' — as defined by the Taliban — were punished by public beatings and stoning.
Since the Taliban's ouster, the status of Afghan women is considered by the country's constitution as equal to that of men. Although there is no doubt that they remain amongst the country's most underprivileged groups, they have made significant gains such as winning seats in parliament, going back to work and school — and fighting to apply constitutional guarantees to their daily lives.
With President Karzai now ready to negotiate with the Taliban, there are legitimate fears that he may be forced to compromise on women's rights. Indeed, the point has been raised by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which on Friday voiced deep concern at “the absence of clear strategies to protect women's rights in the process of the discussions leading to negotiations with representatives of the Taliban”.
The committee suggests that the government ensure female representation in talks with the Taliban, and reiterates that “Afghan women, who constitute the majority of the Afghan population, must be full and equal participants in decision-making, at all levels, in the process of peace-building, reconciliation, reconstruction and development of their country”. The Afghan foreign minister has said that his country does not intend to bribe Taliban foot-soldiers to stop fighting; similarly, their cooperation must not be won at the cost of the rights of half the country's population.