Afghan peace negotiator Fawzia Koofi says her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize demonstrates global support for the women of Afghanistan amid historic talks between the country's warring sides.
One of four women representing the Afghan government, Koofi has been sitting down at the negotiating table with members of the Taliban for talks that began last month in the Arab state of Qatar.
The female members of the 21-person negotiating team have vowed to preserve women’s rights in any power-sharing deal with the hard-line Taliban. This includes the right to work, education, and participation in political life, all denied to women when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan for five years.
Afghanistan, including the government, remains deeply conservative and women are largely confined to their homes.
Koofi, a 45-year-old women’s and human rights activist, former member of parliament, and survivor of two armed attacks, says the Peace Prize nomination "gives us more strength and authority so that we can better defend and represent Afghan women.”
“The world is honoring the open struggle for peace by women in Afghanistan,” she told The Associated Press, speaking by phone from Qatar.
Amid the peace talks, the eyes of the international community are likely to be the biggest motivator for making progress for women.
Although she's just one of 318 candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize -- 211 individuals and 107 organizations -- Koofi said the emphasis on the role of women in shaping a peaceful future for Afghanistan was very important.
Koofi is the 19th daughter of a rural village leader in northeastern Badakhshan province. She holds a master’s degree in international relations and human rights from the Geneva’s University of Diplomacy.
In August, she survived an assassination attempt with light wounds to her hand. She survived another armed attack in eastern Kabul in 2010.
She has actively worked for women’s rights since the Taliban was in power, including maintaining schools for girls in her own home in Badakhshan Province and in the capital, Kabul.
In the 19 years since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban, Afghanistan has refused to pass a women’s rights bill. The situation for women is even more troubling in the roughly half of the country that the Taliban now controls or holds sway over.
Koofi was the first female deputy speaker of the Afghan parliament and worked for the inclusion of a gender budget in Afghanistan’s financial budget. She was also the country’s first female leader of a political party.
As head of the women and human affairs committee during her second round of service in the Afghan parliament, Koofi played an active role in the enactment of protective laws for women and children, particularly the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women and the Law on the Protection of Children in Afghanistan.
Last year, Koofi was dropped from the list of parliamentary candidates amid a public controversy involving some members of her family. The Afghan attorney general's press office did not immediately return calls by the AP seeking comment on the allegations.
The Afghan government and the Taliban negotiating teams are currently working out a framework to start discussing the main agenda of bringing an end to the decades-long war in Afghanistan.
Talks between Afghans on both sides of the conflict are a critical part of the U.S. peace deal signed with the Taliban in February. That deal spells out the withdrawal of U.S. troops and gives Afghanistan its best chance at peace.