After former Afghan President Hamid Karzai finished his remarks at the 2019 Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, a voice from the back of the room asked the very question on my mind: “How will you ensure the role of females in this process is one that's actionable?”
Karzai’s response was clear:
“I don't think there will be a kind of a role for women in the process itself.… What is more important is that once peace is reached and there is a settlement...that we make sure that our movement to the future is equally strong with regards to the opportunities that the country should give to women, that we have given to women.”
Karzai has no official role in ongoing talks in Afghanistan, in which there have not yet been any direct meetings between the Taliban and the Afghan government. But he inserts himself regularly into Afghan politics and is an influential voice. So it was devastating to hear Karzai apparently support, in a public forum, the exclusion of women from the talks. His suggestion that progress was made on women’s rights because his government “gave” it to them was also troubling.
Notably, the next day he issued a clarification asserting that: “Afghan women must be part of the peace process, but more than that they must be benefitted by the outcomes of the peace process so that none of the freedoms they regained (post-Taliban) are lost.”
Afghan women’s rights activists have been fighting for years to secure equal participation in the future of their country. They’ve made some progress against the toughest of odds, but much remains undone. Current President Ashraf Ghani’s negotiating team for the talks includes three women, but the Afghan government isn’t even at the table yet. And the government, along with its international partners, have always been weak concerning women’s role in peace talks.
Women and girls in Afghanistan continue to face extreme forms of violence and discrimination. Two-thirds of adolescent girls are still not in school. Important legislation on violence against women – signed by Karzai himself – is still largely unenforced. A growing proportion of civilian casualties in the conflict are women and girls. High-profile women and women in public life face harassment, threats, and even murder.
Nearly 20 years ago, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 called for women’s participation in all peace processes. Since the resolution’s adoption in 2000, many governments have begun to recognize that women’s roles in peace processes are not negotiable add-ons, but fundamental to sustainable and implementable peace accords.
Karzai should understand this. His remarks, even after clarifying them, are a damaging betrayal of the role of women in future talks.