The top members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee have urged Afghanistan’s leaders to preserve the “advances” of women as Kabul negotiates a peace deal with the Taliban aimed at ending the nearly 19-year war.
Rights activists fear that hard-fought gains made by women since the collapse of the Taliban regime will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the extremist group.
Representatives Eliot Engel (Democrat-New York), chairman of the committee, and Michael McCaul (Republican-Texas) said the government’s negotiating team “must make unequivocally and abundantly clear that women will have a significant role to play in any future Afghanistan.”
“At such a critical moment in Afghanistan’s future, we offer our unwavering support and encouragement for the progress that your country has made in the area of women’s empowerment and urge you to make this an ongoing priority of your government,” Engel and McCaul said in a joint statement on September 18.
Under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, the militants prevented women and girls from working or going to school.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, millions of girls have gone to school and continue to study, women have joined the workforce in meaningful numbers, and dozens of women are members of parliament and work in the government or diplomatic corps.
The Taliban has said it will protect women’s rights, but only if they don’t violate Islamic or Afghan values, suggesting it will curtail some of the fragile freedoms gained by women in the past two decades.
The constitution guarantees the same rights to women as men, although in practice women still face heavy discrimination in society, particularly in rural areas.
But the Taliban has demanded a new constitution based on "Islamic principles,” prompting concern among Afghan rights campaigners.
Intra-Afghan peace negotiations that started on September 12 will tackle tough issues, including a permanent cease-fire, the rights of women and minorities, and the disarming of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters.