Afghan women fear a setback in rights

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The international community met in Germany this week to discuss the future of Afghanistan, as Afghan women fear for their rights and future security. Days ago, the Afghan government took an important step by including 13 women in its delegation to the Bonn II conference. However, their participation does not guarantee that the Afghan government and international community will not make concessions on women's rights in order to appease the Taliban. In the end, women struggled to be heard

Foreign ministers from over 90 countries, including Canada and the Afghan government met in Bonn on Dec. 5th to discuss three main issues:

• The transition process as military forces transfer responsibility to the Government of Afghanistan for 2014;

• The long-term engagement of the international community in Afghanistan's future; and

• The political process that should enable long-term stabilization of the country.

With a substantial Taliban presence expected, Afghan women are concerned that the conference could legitimize Taliban groups. In late October, a small delegation of Afghan women led by Dr. Massouda Jalal, a former Afghan Minister of Women's Affairs, and head of the Jalal Foundation visited the International Federation of University Women (IFUW) in Geneva to express their concerns surrounding the Bonn Conference and to ask for the help of IFUW and its 61 National Affiliates in pressuring their national governments to ensure women's full and active participation. Dr. Jalal stated that without the strong representation of women, these discussions could result in a loss of the small gains made by women since the Taliban was ousted 10 years ago.

Since then, access to education for girls has increased significantly and women's representation in parliament has improved. Under the new Afghan constitution women and men are now seen as legally equal, and the government has taken an important step by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

In 2009, the government also enacted a law to eliminate violence against women. Yet Afghan women have a long way to go before they reach gender equality. A United Nations' report released just two weeks ago shows that the government of Afghanistan has done little to actually enforce the law. In the two years since the law was enacted, the government has only pursued a small percentage of the reported crimes against women, leaving much room for improvement.

Since September, women's groups in Afghanistan and abroad have repeatedly called on their governments to guarantee women's full and active participation during the discussions in Bonn and to ensure women's issues are made a high priority. In making this urgent plea, both IFUW and the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) have invoked the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UN resolution 1325), which calls for the full representation of women in all conflict and peace processes.

While women's groups were very pleased by the Afghan government's decision to include 13 women out of its 40 delegates to the conference, if the Afghan government and the international community fail to take a vigorous stand to protect women's rights at this meeting, and instead, use those gains as a bargaining tool to bring the Taliban into the peace process, it could set women's rights back 10 years.

Taliban insurgents still have a strong presence in a number of provinces and have demonstrated their willingness to limit women's rights. Female officials from the provinces of Ghazni and Wardak have reported direct threats from the Taliban and fear for their security, as they are prevented from travelling outside of provincial centres. Gains that have been made in girl's education have also been almost completely reversed.

"This October marked the 11th anniversary of UN Resolution 1325. If Canada and other members of the international community allow Afghan women's voices to be sidelined at the Bonn II conference, it will be yet another failure to implement this important resolution", said Brenda Wallace, CFUW national president. "It is of vital importance to commit to the full representation of women in the Afghan peace process. Women must play a key role in these discussions, as any decisions made will be pivotal to their future."

Other organizations and activists must join in calling on the government of Canada to implement UN Resolution 1325, and insist that Afghan women's right be made a priority.

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