RECONCILIATION WITH THE FEW, ALIENATION OF THE MANY: Why it is so important to obtain guarantees for women's rights at the Kabul conference

Bente Aika Scheller

Kabul hosts the biggest international conference ever in Afghanistan on the future of the country. Representatives of more than 60 countries will demonstrate their support for the developmental process as well as reconciliation with the Taliban. While openness towards militants is growing, the freedom of Afghan women is shrinking every day. When are we going to launch a program to reintegrate women in society?

The Kabul conference is an important milestone for the Afghan government. With the biggest event ever hosted by Afghanistan, it will be a demonstration of the capabilities the government has developed over the last years. If the conference is not disturbed by major security incidents, this indeed will encourage other countries confidence in Afghan sovereignty and encourage them to hand over more and more responsibilities in the cluster areas as defined in the London conference.

The expectations of the Afghan government reach further, however. It wants international backing not only for the national development strategy (ANDS) but also hopes to obtain support for reconciliation with the Taliban. This project, aiming at establishing peace and security in Afghanistan by integrating those who are challenging the government's authority, is still not very clear to Afghan citizens. They know that the government is already negotiating and selectively cooperating with Taliban. They are aware of the demand to take a number of Taliban off the UN list. Who that is and what will be offered in more political negotiations, however, remains unknown.

The biggest question mark is what is going to happen with women's rights. Right ahead of the conference, Human Rights Watch analyst Rachel Reid published an opinion piece in Wall Street Journal about the "Taliban war on women". On a daily basis, she writes, women receive threats and experience violence but most of them will never report this – among others because victims can expect little protection from the government.

But even if there was a stronger commitment to protection, this still would not necessarily mean an improvement in the situation of women: In the Afghan context, protection is normally not understood as protection of the rights of women but rather means that further restrictions on the anyway limited movements of women will be implemented. This happened for example recently in the northern province Badakhshan. After two women were killed by "mysterious people from outside the area" the district issued a new law preventing women from leaving the house if not accompanied by a male relative.

Over the last years, women have suffered severe setbacks, in state institutions as well as in society. The militant's increasing power has taken a toll on women's freedoms. This is why in negotiations with the Taliban guarantees for women's rights have to be a central demand. If peace cannot be achieved without integrating militants, development and progress cannot be reached when excluding women. If Afghanistan is really is interested in reconstruction and development, it cannot afford to alienate half of its population.

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