I have been working on women’s human rights for many years, most recently with the Centre for Secular Space, a new global think tank formed to oppose religious extremism, strengthen secular voices, and ensure that the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities don’t disappear from view in the rush to make peace with Islamic fundamentalists. Ever since stories started appearing about Karzai wanting to negotiate with the Taliban and the US backing him up, we have been worrying about what would happen to Afghan women. The Afghan Women's Network has developed a terrific demilitarization program but nobody here seems to have heard about it, while some of the men in the US State Dept. consider women’s rights a "pet rock" to be discarded when serious negotiations begin. I wrote a blog about this, but what good is a blog?
Seeing Peace Unveiled on PBS
and hearing that Afghan women were being excluded from the Bonn conference, which begins Dec. 5, sharpened my sense that something awful was about to happen. So I wrote another blog
. It felt about as effective as putting a message in a bottle. But by this time, a lot of other people were taking initiative; pressure mounted; emails started flying; and the global network Women Living Under Muslim Laws
put out a very strong statement denouncing “the ethical incoherence of States that engaged in a devastating war in Afghanistan under the fallacious pretext to protect ‘poor oppressed Muslim women living under the burqa’, and now prevent them from participating as full-fledged citizens in the peace process in their country, all while engaging with their oppressors,” and calling for women and progressive forces everywhere to use “all possible media avenues in support of Afghan women’s claim to full participation in the negotiations.”
The next day, thirteen women were suddenly included in the Afghan delegation to Bonn. Two days later, the Afghan Women’s Network sent out an update saying that, as a result of concerted domestic and international pressure, the official delegation was now 31% female. However, these women were added at the last minute and had not been consulted about what would happen at the Bonn conference. In addition, fifteen women have been added to the Peace Council, but these women were handpicked by government people, including warlords. In short, “real meaningful participation of women at all levels is still very minimal.”
By then the Bonn meeting was just a week away. There wasn’t enough time to pull together a big coalition of women’s and human rights groups, or to get a list of celebrity signatures that might impress the State Dept. But at least we could do a global petition. Ariane Brunet in Montreal and I worked on the text; we got input from others in our network; and the petition went up late Tuesday night. It is now starting to reach international listserves. If we get enough signatures, maybe we can convince our governments to actually listen to the Afghan women’s demands. Please sign, link on FB, tweet, and forward to your friends!