Former President Hamid Karzai, left, and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, second right, attend an international peace conference in Moscow, Russia, March 18, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool

(New York) – Afghanistan’s government and its international partners are failing in their obligation to ensure that Afghan women are full participants in all peace processes. In keeping with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, talks between the Afghan parties scheduled for April 2021 need to include the “full participation” of women.

On March 18, the Russian government hosted representatives of the Afghan government, the Taliban, and partner countries at a summit aimed to advance peace talks. The 12-member Afghan government delegation included one woman, Dr. Habiba Sarabi, backsliding from the inclusion of just four women among the 20 members at the intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha, Qatar in September 2020. The 10-person Taliban delegation was entirely male, as in the past. Afghan women’s rights activists have raised concerns that women will be largely shut out of the planned peace talks in Turkey, putting women’s rights at great risk in any final settlement.

“The minimal inclusion of women at the Moscow talks shows an appalling disregard for Afghan women’s struggle for over a decade to be full participants in peace processes as called for by the UN Security Council,” said Heather Barr, interim co-director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “Even the Afghan government’s inadequate level of women’s representation at the Doha meeting seems to have slipped away, as women have again been pushed aside and ignored.”

UN Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, calls for women’s “equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.” Since then, the Security Council has passed seven additional resolutions on women, peace, and security.

Dr. Sarabi said in Moscow: “Why I should be the only woman in the room? We have not been part of the war. We can certainly contribute to peace. Fifty-one percent of people should not be ignored. I hope the hosts take note of it for the future.”

Women’s rights activists in Afghanistan have for many years raised concerns that the government will trade away women’s rights to reach an accommodation with the Taliban. The Afghan government has often resisted including women in peace talks. In June 2015, the Afghan government adopted a national action plan to implement Security Council Resolution 1325 from 2015 through 2022, including the goal of “[e]nsuring women’s effective participation in the peace process,” but the plan lacked detail and has not been meaningfully carried out. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has called for a minimum of 30 percent of negotiators to be women.

Nader Nadery, a member of the Afghan government delegations in both Doha and Moscow, tweeted that the host, the Russian government, selected the people invited to Moscow. But the leader of the delegation, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, almost certainly had input into the composition of his delegation, which included several men facing credible allegations of war crimes. Delegations from China, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States were also included in the Moscow summit.

“Afghanistan’s leaders should ensure that women are full participants at every stage of the peace process, and not allow the Moscow summit to set a new and even lower bar,” Barr said. “Research from around the world shows that women’s participation increases the effectiveness, success, and sustainability of peace processes, so all Afghans will lose if women continue to be shut out.”

Donors to Afghanistan, including those that have hosted peace talks, have often failed to promote including Afghan women. A 2014 study by Oxfam found that in 23 rounds of informal peace talks involving the Afghan government and the Taliban between 2005 and 2014, women were present at  only two. No women were  included in the discussions between international negotiators and the Taliban examined by Oxfam. Donors did not condemn the lack of women at the Moscow summit, with a US official saying only that Washington “wished” there had been more women and the EU tweeting that “peace required inclusivity.”

A leaked draft plan prepared by the United States calls for a transitional “peace government” in Afghanistan with appointments to that government to be made “with special consideration for the meaningful inclusion of women…throughout government institutions.” “Meaningful inclusion” falls short of the “full participation in the peace process” set out under Resolution 1325. The US is seeking an agreement in Afghanistan as the administration of President Joe Biden weighs whether to comply with the May 1, 2021 deadline for US troop withdrawal that was set in the February 2020 deal between the US and the Taliban negotiated by the previous US administration.

“Donors have not just stayed silent while the Afghan government shut women out of peace talks, but often they’ve been complicit, themselves shutting women out,” Barr said. “It’s critical for every donor and troop-contributing nation in Afghanistan to be clear that Afghan women need to be full participants in all talks, and that women’s rights are not up for debate.”