The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Global public figures say women must be included at every stage of Taliban-Afghan government peace talks

Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation waves before departing from Kabul to Doha, Qatar, on Friday for talks with the Taliban. (Handout/Reuters)

More than 100 prominent global figures have signed an open letter calling on Afghan and Taliban negotiators, and those countries and international organizations backing peace talks that begin Saturday, not to “squander” gains made by Afghan women in the two decades since the overthrow of Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers.

Only four women are part of the 21-member team representing the current, U.S.-backed Afghan government negotiating team; there are none on the Taliban side.

The letter called for women to be parties at every stage of the talks, rather than “just an issue to be discussed,” and for their perspectives to be reflected in any agreement reached.

Signers, gathered in a campaign spearheaded by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, include former first lady Laura Bush, former secretaries of state Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and former national security adviser Stephen Hadley from the United States, as well as a wide spectrum of former presidents, prime ministers and foreign policy leaders from across the world.

Read the open letter on Afghan women and peace talks with the Taliban

Albright said that even having women on the government team, something that was not assured as the talks were repeatedly delayed, was a step forward.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a glass half-full, but there’s certainly more water than was in it in the first place,” she said in an interview.

The inter-Afghan negotiations follow the signing early this year of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban, calling for the gradual withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign forces in Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban agreement to sit down and negotiate a political settlement of the war with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

After numerous postponements, most due to disagreements over the release of prisoners from both sides, the delegations have gathered in Doha, the Qatari capital, to begin talks that are expected to incorporate the Taliban into a future government.

Under Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001, Afghan girls were prohibited from going to school, while women were banned from working or participating in civic life outside the home.

With the overthrow of the militants, “women went from being virtually erased . . . to becoming policewomen, teachers, public officials, mayors and entrepreneurs,” the letter from the leaders said. “In 2019, women accounted for 28% of the Afghan parliament . . . they will not surrender these gains. Peace cannot be made on the backs of Afghan women.”

Many Afghan women have expressed fears that they will be left behind in the race for a peace agreement. Although the militants said during the negotiations that they would not reverse gains made, they have also insisted that women be treated according to their strict interpretation of Islamic law.