By Dr. Zia Nezam
March 8th marks the 44th annual International Women’s Day, since its adoption by the United Nations in 1975. The significance of this celebration is very important for Afghan women, because of current peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban. Afghan men and, especially, women remember well the Taliban rule of Afghanistan, which ended 18 years ago. Since the fall of the Taliban regime, Afghan women, particularly, have made tremendous achievements. Still, Afghans recognize, we have much to do to bring equal rights and benefits to women in our society across the nation.
What must be done for any lasting peace is preserving the gains women have made in the past 18 years. The social, economic, and institutional development of Afghanistan has made could not have been possible without the extraordinary contributions of Afghan women in all facets of national life. Our 18 years of progress — filled with dramatic, positive changes — is unprecedented in our history, notwithstanding the real challenges our country still faces.
Surveys, polls, and conversations around our country reveal that Afghan women strongly want peace. However, they reject a negotiated peace, if the price is the loss of hard-earned societal gains they have made. Afghan women fear a quick peace deal that will undermine all their advances. Safeguards for women’s rights must be an essential element, a cornerstone, of any peace accords.
Since the ouster of the Taliban rulers, Afghans have instituted a constitution and laws (ex., the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women) that acknowledge rights, protections, and opportunities for women. Today in Afghanistan, millions of girls and women are learning in schools and universities. Vitally important to any society, Afghan women today have access to health facilities and economic opportunities to help their families and themselves. Women now participate in politics, business, sports, and social life, generally. Their multifaceted presence is unprecedented in Afghan history.
All the mentioned gains have come through the persistent efforts of politically active Afghan women’s-rights campaigners, female and male; and international friends of Afghanistan. Without desire for conquest, American and European friends earnestly want Afghanistan to succeed on its path to wider democracy and in forging a society that meets the basic needs of its diverse people. A just and enlightened society recognizes and furthers the aspirations of women as well as men.
No “peace” can be peace, if it attempts to reverse our nation’s progress and make meaningless the sacrifice of thousands of Afghans and international allies.
We cannot return to the nightmarish days of the Taliban-led violent segregation of men and women in all phases of society, of having women and girls barred from the fundamental right to education, and of the denial of women’s participation in business, politics, social institutions. Afghanistan cannot be forced to lose the centuries of progress we have made in 18 years.