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UN: Women Seek Role In Possible Post-Taliban Afghanistan

Women's rights advocates have urged the United Nations Security Council to help provide a greater voice for women in countries struggling to find peace. Some of these advocates stress they are particularly interested in assuring a role for women in any post-Taliban government that takes shape in Afghanistan.

United Nations, 1 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Women from conflict zones are seeking a renewed commitment from the United Nations Security Council to help give them more responsibility in matters of peace and security.

The council met on 30 October with women civil-society representatives from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and East Timor on the occasion of the first anniversary of a UN resolution that calls on governments to include women at peace talks while protecting them from the abuses of war.

Noeleen Heyzer is executive director of the UN Fund for Women. Speaking at a press conference after the meeting, Heyzer said Afghanistan's long history of bloodshed, in particular, highlights the need to have women involved in efforts at securing peace: "We have seen that even after several years, women's protection is glaringly neglected in many war-torn countries and that their contributions to [the] peace-building process are still being marginalized. Yet we have seen increasingly [that] the peace process itself suffers when women's voices are not heard, when they are not at the peace table, and if their voices and their analyses are not brought to the decision-makers. And this is particularly true at this time with the current Afghan situation."

The women who spoke to the Security Council on this occasion say that, one year after the UN's landmark resolution on women and conflict, many of their concerns remain unresolved.

Jamila is a humanitarian worker from Afghanistan who directs the Afghan Women's Welfare Department, an organization based in Peshawar, Pakistan. She says it is wrong to assume that Afghan women cannot have political roles. She began her humanitarian work in Afghanistan 13 years ago, when women were largely restricted to their homes and few were able to study.

Jamila says she saw role models in her own community -- women who were capable of making a difference in people's lives. Her Afghan Women's Welfare Department is joining forces with the Afghan Women's Network, an umbrella organization of non-governmental women's organizations.

Jamila says women make up 55 percent of the Afghan population and that long-lasting peace in the country is unthinkable without proper representation by women in any post-Taliban government. She says women have for years carried out crucial humanitarian duties in the country.

"Most women's organizations [in Afghanistan] do not have political affiliations and are providing humanitarian assistance to all of our people, regardless of ethnic background. We are Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek. We have our family and ethnic affiliation, and our points of view come from this background. In America, you say [that], 'One woman does not women make.' It is the same in Afghanistan. Our work as humanitarians today should be supported so that we can have an active role in rebuilding the future Afghanistan."

Jamila says there is a precedent for women in positions of power in Afghanistan. She said that in the 1960s there were women ministers, parliamentarians, and ambassadors in the country. She says there are many Afghan women's organizations in Pakistan and that their activities must be supported.

Jamila was asked whether she can foresee a future broad-based government in Afghanistan that would include women along with representatives of the Taliban. She said such a scenario would be unacceptable to most Afghan women.

"The Taliban -- there are extremist elements [in the Taliban]. They are not acceptable for Afghan women. We want a government which is acceptable for the people of Afghanistan, that women should have equal rights."

But another woman with experience working with civil society groups in Afghanistan says she can envisage a government in which women and some Taliban representatives could work together.

Sippi Azerbaijani-Mogheddan works for the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, a non-governmental organization with offices in Peshawar. She says she believes the Taliban might accept women in leadership positions if such women are "strong-willed" and have the support of Afghan men: "If there are strong individuals who are willing to speak out, who are willing to sort of push the barriers, force the agenda, whatever, and if there is support from Afghan men, and also from expatriate men, from men who are not Afghan, then it is possible for women to be included, even with the presence of the Taliban. The Taliban can be prevailed upon to include women in the peace process."

Top UN officials have so far expressed support for the efforts of women to become more involved in conflict resolution. The Security Council on 31 October approved a statement calling for accelerated implementation of last year's UN resolution. Council members reaffirmed their support for increasing the role of women in decision-making, asking, for example, for women to be appointed special envoys to the UN secretary-general.

The council also renewed its call on states to include women in the negotiations and implementation of peace accords, constitutions, and strategies for resettlement and rebuilding.

Meanwhile, UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is scheduled to meet in Pakistan with a group of Afghan women today. Brahimi is in Pakistan as part of an effort to ensure any post-conflict government in Afghanistan is broadly representative.