Human Rights Watch (HRW) says women should be “full participants” in the upcoming conference in Turkey meant to give new impetus to the Afghan peace process.
Human rights advocates in Afghanistan have raised concerns that women and victims’ organizations will be sidelined in the talks, tentatively scheduled to begin in Istanbul on April 16.
The gathering is to be held under United Nations auspices with participation of Afghan government officials and the Taliban, with the discussion expected to touch upon proposed peace plans aimed at putting an end to decades of war in Afghanistan that include a possible interim government.
In a statement on April 7, HRW urged senior UN officials to make a public commitment to “fully include” Afghan women in the main talks, and not only in “parallel” side events devoted to civil society groups.
The United States, which has promoted the Istanbul talks in an effort to accelerate intra-Afghan peace negotiations before a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, has an important role to play in promoting full participation by women, according to the New York-based human rights watchdog.
HRW noted that the Afghan government delegation at a meeting in Moscow last month meant to advance peace talks included only one woman.
Meanwhile, the government’s official delegation on intra-Afghan talks that have been ongoing in Qatar includes four women among its 20 members.
In both settings, the Taliban delegations have been entirely male.
The UN has repeatedly stated its commitment to ensuring the full participation of Afghan women in the peace process amid concerns among rights activists that the government in Kabul will trade away women’s rights to reach an accommodation with the Taliban.
“UN officials should make clear that women should not be relegated to side discussions but need a central role in determining Afghanistan’s future,” while the United States “should not stay silent if the Afghan government shuts women out of peace talks,” said Heather Barr, interim women’s rights co-director at HRW.
“It’s critical for the [administration of U.S. President Joe Biden] to be clear that Afghan women need to be full participants in all talks, and that women’s rights are not a bargaining chip,” Barr added.