Women's Rights

Taliban assurance of 'women's rights' comes with major caveat


At least six women were among the Afghans meeting with the Taliban delegation in Doha, Qatar. Afghan woman participants can be seen at the conference on July 7. [Karim Jaafar/AFP]

At least six women were among the Afghans meeting with the Taliban delegation in Doha, Qatar. Afghan woman participants can be seen at the conference on July 7. [Karim Jaafar/AFP]

KABUL -- An agreement by the Taliban to respect women's rights may seem like a breakthrough, but activists have questioned how the hardline Islamists -- notorious for stomping on freedoms -- will interpret the careful wording.

A historic meeting between Afghan representatives and the Taliban concluded late Monday (July 8) with the longtime foes issuing a joint statement, including a reference to women's rights.

"Assuring women's rights in political, social, economic, educational, cultural affairs as per (and) within the Islamic framework of Islamic values," is vital for a durable peace, agreed participants at the Doha summit.

The wording appears significant, as the Taliban are notorious for their long-standing subjugation of women that has included stonings, honour killings and a ban on education.

Observers have cautioned the pledge is open to broad interpretation, depending on who is defining the values of Islam.

"Our rights were completely respected in 'frames of Islamic values' under the [Taliban]," women's rights activist Wazhma Frogh wrote sarcastically on Twitter.

"What an achievement of the Doha meeting. Going back!"

"A few ignorant people" should not be left to interpret Islamic values, said Manizha Qurban, an Afghan Facebook user.

Otherwise "they will become nightmares, especially for women. We should invite scholars from other Islamic countries to interpret the values for us," she wrote.

The joint statement came at the end of two days of talks between influential Afghans, including a small group of women, and senior Taliban officials.

The statement included a pledge to decrease violence in some cases and to bring civilian casualties to "zero".

However, the two-page document made no promise of a ceasefire.

Paying lip service

The Taliban have paid lip service to women's rights but always include the caveat of defining them through Islam.

For instance, in areas of the country now under control of the Taliban, residents report modest changes in the militants' hardline stance.

In some areas, the Taliban now allow girls to attend primary school, but they are still segregated by gender and the Taliban control the curriculum.

Nonetheless, reports of floggings and the stoning of women, as well as so-called honour killings -- where a girl is accused of bringing a home into disrepute -- remain common.

"Please please don't let the Taliban interpret Islamic principles for women again. Islamic principles for them mean beating and imprisoning women," Facebook user Samira Samim wrote.

It might seem positive that the words "women's rights" appeared in the statement, said Heather Barr, the acting co-director of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch.

"But this language about women's rights within the Islamic framework is classic Taliban rhetoric," she told AFP.

The Taliban "remain fundamentally opposed to gender equality. So the Afghan women at the negotiating table know that they're in for the fight of their life as they try to preserve the Afghan constitution's promise of gender equality," Barr said.

In May, Taliban Doha office spokesman Suhail Shaheen said "we do not have any problem with" women's rights based on Islamic values.

"We have a different culture and different values. Our values, Afghan values, are different from ... Western values," he told AFP.

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When Taliban took over power, their purpose was not Islamic. They committed war crimes against women and men, and also the worst was that they did not respect women, even, most of the Taliban ministers were saying that women should not be in the government departments because they are provoking us (the men). Even at that time, we witnessed Taliban lashing women for not covering their feet and etc. Hence, how can we expect women's rights from such ignorant people whose base of government was put on prejudice and ignorance. They did not know about the religion and humanity. Despite that they were born from women, but they did not give any value to women, and all of them were raised in the villages. They wanted to enforce the villages' law on the women in the cities. They did not even know what a woman is. I can remember when three Taliban brought a girl from one of the provinces, and three persons were committing adultery with her, and when so, how can we expect women's rights from such wild people. Taliban should not be recognized as a political power. They are insurgents and they are funded by foreign countries. We should not recognize them. We ask the international community to crush them.