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Many Afghan women have joined the workforce since the fall of the Taliban.

The top members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee have urged Afghanistan’s leaders to preserve the “advances” of women as Kabul negotiates a peace deal with the Taliban aimed at ending the nearly 19-year war.

Rights activists fear that hard-fought gains made by women since the collapse of the Taliban regime will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the extremist group.

Representatives Eliot Engel (Democrat-New York), chairman of the committee, and Michael McCaul (Republican-Texas) said the government’s negotiating team “must make unequivocally and abundantly clear that women will have a significant role to play in any future Afghanistan.”

“At such a critical moment in Afghanistan’s future, we offer our unwavering support and encouragement for the progress that your country has made in the area of women’s empowerment and urge you to make this an ongoing priority of your government,” Engel and McCaul said in a joint statement on September 18.

Under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, the militants prevented women and girls from working or going to school.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, millions of girls have gone to school and continue to study, women have joined the workforce in meaningful numbers, and dozens of women are members of parliament and work in the government or diplomatic corps.

The Taliban has said it will protect women’s rights, but only if they don’t violate Islamic or Afghan values, suggesting it will curtail some of the fragile freedoms gained by women in the past two decades.

The constitution guarantees the same rights to women as men, although in practice women still face heavy discrimination in society, particularly in rural areas.

But the Taliban has demanded a new constitution based on "Islamic principles,” prompting concern among Afghan rights campaigners.

Intra-Afghan peace negotiations that started on September 12 will tackle tough issues, including a permanent cease-fire, the rights of women and minorities, and the disarming of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters.

Activists have long fought for the ID card change (file photo)

Afghan mothers will have their names on their children's national identification cards, after a years-long campaign by women’s rights advocates.

President Ashraf Ghani on September 18 signed into law the amendment to the country’s Citizens Law.

The change has been long sought by rights activists in the deeply conservative and religious country where women are identified by the names of their male relatives.

For men, revealing the names of their female relatives in public is considered shameful.

Until now, only a father's name was printed on ID cards.

Based on Ghani’s decree, a draft of which was recently passed by parliament, mothers' names will be included alongside fathers' names on birth certificates and national identity cards.

The change comes after a high-profile campaign by Afghan women under the hashtag #WhereIsMyName.

“The mother’s name is officially included in the national identity cards, along with other personal details,” Ghani’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said on Twitter on September 18.

Human Rights Watch said the amendment was “a major victory for Afghan women’s rights activists.”

“This will have immediate real-world consequences for women, making it easier for them to obtain education, health care, and passports and other documentation for their children, and to travel with their children,” Heather Barr, an interim co-director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on September 18.

Barr added that the decree is important amid ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban extremist group in Qatar.

Rights activists have raised concerns that a political settlement with the militant group could result in setbacks for women’s rights.

Under Taliban rule, girls and women were banned from working and going to school.

“The struggle for women’s rights in Afghanistan has been long and hard, and many Afghan women fear their rights could be rolled back in the negotiations,” Barr said.

Political observer Ahmad Saeidi told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that Ghani wants to “highlight his commitment to women’s rights.”

Earlier this week, a former Taliban commander Sayed Akbar Agha said including mothers’ names on Afghan ID cards would be a “dishonor."

Laleh Osmany, founder of the #WhereIsMyName campaign, told the BBC that she was “overjoyed” by the change.

"There is no doubt that this victory is the result of a persistent campaign and consonance among the campaigners and citizens," she said.

With reporting by dpa and the BBC

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