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Editorial: Women in arms

Insecurity and political instability in a country facilitates a hot-bed for giving rise to many issues. Afghanistan has been struggling with such kinds of issues for a long time now. Last year, the issue of a pedophile ring being responsible for the abuse of hundreds of children in Logar schools sparked unrest among Afghans. In terms of children and women’s rights, Afghanistan is on its path to improvement but there is still need to be impressive strides on this front. In its latest report titled ‘Women in Afghan Security and Defense Forces’, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) revealed that over 14 percent of female officers who were interviewed had faced sexual harassment. Having interviewed around 2,300 women officers between 18-40 ages, who are serving in the military ranks, the rights watchdog attempted to find if there has been any violation of rights against this particular gender. According to the figures, 48.8 percent of the respondents claimed that they have unequal access to facilities, rights and privileges compared to their male counterparts. Over 4,000 women have been serving in the Afghan security forces, based on figures from the Central Statistics Organization (CSO) in 2016; however, the number has probably increased by now. On the other hand, the majority of the female army personnel (84.4%) felt safe at work regarding sexual harassment and abuse matters. Given this, one can say there has been some progress made with regard to women’s condition and public perception of them in the country. Back in the day, during the Taliban’s regime in the 1990s, there were severe restrictions imposed on this class of the society as they were even barred from going to schools, universities, and outing without a male partner. Nevertheless, with all this optimism about women’s presence in the Afghan military ranks, the uncertain marathon efforts for finding a political settlement to the ongoing war are still haunting Afghans. As the US has been engaged in peace negotiations with the Taliban for more than a year now, there are grave concerns about the possible violation of women’s rights and the achievements gained during the last two decades. In a recent development, the US Secretary of State has informed Afghan leaders about the Taliban’s proposal with regards to bringing a significant and enduring reduction in violence and that notable progress has been made in the ongoing peace talks with the Taliban. But where is the progress? Meanwhile, according to western media, US President Donald Trump has also accorded conditional approval to a peace agreement with the Taliban with circulating rumors suggesting that a US-Taliban peace deal is imminent and will be inked in the next couple of days. At this juncture, the critical question is: Has the matter of women’s presence been tabled in the peace parleys so far? Or are the negotiations only focused on a reduction in violence and US troop pullout? Moreover, if the issue of women-in-arms is going to be raised after the intra-Afghan dialogue gets underway, and then would the Taliban agree to it? These are some of the questions which need to be adequately heeded and addressed by the Afghan leaders.

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