Conflicts & War

Too soon to say Taliban attitude towards women has changed: Afghan negotiator

By Babar Khan Sahel

Kabul, Oct 22 (efe-epa).- Fawzia Koofi, one of the four Afghan female peace negotiators with the Taliban, says it is too early to know if the Islamist rebels have changed their attitude towards women.

Koofi, 45, was named in the pool of candidates for the Nobel Peace 2020 for her tireless advocacy of democracy and rights for women and is part of a 21-member delegation sent by the Afghan government last month to negotiate with the Taliban in Doha.

“I think it is a little bit early to claim whether the Taliban have changed or not. Let us see how they (Taliban) behave, especially those who are inside Afghanistan fighting on the ground. Let us see how they behave towards women, towards social liberties,” Koofi told EFE in a telephonic interview from Qatar.

“Speaking about women rights from five-star hotels in Doha would be much easier compared to implementing them on the ground,” she said, adding that it had not been easy to talk with the insurgents.

“Sometimes they try to ignore you. They do not respond to your greetings. The fact that we are being ignored does not disappoint us, it gives me more reason to work harder,” the activist said.

Koofi stressed it would have been unthinkable for the women to sit face to face with the Taliban leadership for negotiations during their rule (1996-2001).

“I represent the Islamic republic of Afghanistan as a human being. Only 20 years ago, I was regarded as a second or third class citizen. That is an achievement (…) but we need to see more tangible changes on the ground.”

During their regime, the Taliban banned women from education, work, and most spheres of public life.

Koofi suffered personally during the epoch. The Taliban imprisoned her husband. He died in prison in 2003 due to tuberculosis.

However, despite the risks she faced, the activist set up an underground school for girls during the regime. She entered into politics in 2004, three years after the Afghan invasion by the United States.

Between 2005 and 2018, she represented the mountainous northeastern province of Badakhshan in the parliament and worked for laws to protect women and child rights.

Koofi, who graduated in law and political science, and holds a master’s degree in international relations and human rights, has remained a vocal critic of the Taliban and occasionally of the government too that has brought its fair share of dangers.

She has survived two assassination attempts. In 2010, she suffered an attack claimed by the Taliban, and in August this year, she was wounded in a gun attack and was in a hospital for days.

However, that did not dissuade her from traveling to Qatar a month later for the peace talks.

Koofi told EFE that the four female negotiators had a dual responsibility in Doha, towards women’s rights as well as the entire Afghan society.

“We will probably face more challenges and pressures (from the Taliban),” said the activist.

She stressed on the need to defend the progress achieved in the last two decades, like “institutions that deliver, a constitution that guarantees equal rights for all and a very dynamic media.”

“The Afghan society has transformed. This is something I think during the negotiations the Taliban should understand and realize.”

She said women still suffer from problems such as lack of security, corruption, and poverty but were at least able to raise their voices and discuss their problems.

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