Indian Decade

Female Voices

Women at President Hamid Karzai’s peace jirga are making their voices heard.

This is the second in a series of dispatches from Afghanistan

From the outside, Kabul's Polytechnic University campus looks like a citadel. But inside, it's a diverse den of cultures – no more so than during the ongoing peace jirga, where 1600 delegates hailing from various tribes and ethnicities representing the  provinces of Afghanistan are providing a cultural mosaic of this diverse country.

One of the first things I noticed was the separate wing for women. This is more positive than it first sounds. Male-dominated Afghan society is specifically allocating space for women at an important peace conference, which is a noble development. According to government sources, about 20 percent of the delegates are women, and not all of them are wearing the burqa. In fact, many are attending in eye-catching, colourful dresses.

But the irony of all this is that the Taliban, which is being courted by the Hamid Karzai government, was famously anti-women's rights during its time in power, from 1996 to 2001. Women were barred from schools and colleges and no women were allowed to move about outside with a stranger.

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Karishma Barakzoi, a female Pashtu delegate from Khunduz Province, isn't opposed to negotiating with the Taliban, but says she wants reassurance that any deal with the insurgent groups wouldn't adversely affect women.

Some of the women I spoke to refused to go on record with their views, but were still quite vocal about the whole issue of violence and how they're typically the victims. One elderly woman I spoke with who had travelled from Baghlan with her family was extremely bitter about what's been happening in Afghanistan and wondered aloud how long women will have to suffer in a war that the country's men are fighting. She added that she was sceptical that anything of substance was likely to come from the conference.

Farah Naz, from Badakhshan Province, said she favours peace, but is deadly opposed to the Taliban imposing their values and rigidities on women. For her, Afghan women need a better deal and should move with the times time rather than becoming a prisoner of a values system that doesn't respect individuality and liberty.

A female Afghani journalist from a local radio station, Karishma Musavi, who was covering the peace conference, was also quite vocal about women's rights and said she doesn't want to go back to a life like that under the Taliban.

Roshan Sirran, director of the Training Human Rights Association in Kabul told me that Afghan women  despise violence and want all religious leaders, teachers and politicians to come together to bring permanent peace to Afghanistan.

Guest Author

Sanjay Kumar

Sanjay Kumar is a New Delhi-based journalist and correspondent for The Diplomat.

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