How We Ensure Afghan Women’s Equal Rights: A Negotiator’s Perspective


Internally displaced girls at a mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2020. Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

This post is part of the Council on Foreign Relations’ blog series on women's leadership in peacebuilding and non-violent movements, in which CFR fellows, scholars, and practitioners highlight new security strategies. This post was authored by Habiba Sarabi, a member of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan negotiations team engaged in peace talks with the Taliban.

On May 8, the Taliban detonated a car bomb at a Kabul girls’ school, murdering or wounding more than two hundred people. Most of the victims were teenage girls. They were pursuing a simple dream: to study, so that they could grow up to become the fullest versions of themselves.

I have devoted much of my own life to this dream. As a girl, I walked to school in Afghanistan, enduring the bullying of my male classmates and the indifference of my father. Years later, when the Taliban took over Afghanistan and forbade women and girls to work or study, I taught underground, organizing schools in Kabul and other cities to educate a lucky minority of girls.

Afghanistan is still not free from violent misogyny, as this recent attack’s barbarism reminded us. But this country has grown kinder to women since 2001, when the United States removed the Taliban from power. Women’s equal rights are enshrined in the constitution. Women are public leaders, resolving deadlocks in parliament, running businesses, and serving as doctors, pilots, and national security officers.

Today, I am part of my government’s peace negotiating team, sitting across the table from the same group—the Taliban—that has spilled so much blood trying to stop women like me from speaking out. My goal in the negotiations is straightforward. I want to ensure that the progress that Afghan women have made over the last twenty years is not erased, so that every woman in this country can realize her potential in peace.

To guarantee that outcome, women must be able to stand up against attempts to take away the rights that they have fought so hard to gain. That is why we must preserve women’s voices in national politics and in the peacebuilding process. And it is why we must invest more in educating the next generation of Afghanistan’s female leaders.

There are a few ways that Afghanistan’s partners, including the United States and the European Union, can help make these crucial goals a reality.

To start, our partners should condition future aid to Afghanistan on whether the Afghan authorities ensure women’s constitutionally enshrined participation in our democracy. China, the European Union, Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, and the United States should pressure the Islamic Republic and the Taliban to set aside at least 30 percent of official appointments and elected seats for Afghan women. And they should apply similar pressure to help preserve women’s voices in any future peace negotiations between the two sides.

Next, the United Nations and Afghanistan’s partners should make a place for Afghan women in monitoring the ceasefire agreements on which any fragile peace will depend. Women are perceived as reliable, nonthreatening brokers, and researchers argue that their inclusion in peacebuilding can help quell violence. International ceasefire monitors should commit to consulting women in their work.

The May 8 attack revealed the darkness and danger of a misogyny that we must never allow to return to this country. Afghanistan’s success in that project depends on the strength of Afghan women themselves. It’s time to give them the tools they need to carry on their struggle for freedom and security.


Source: Council on Foreign Relations