The peace negotiations between the Afghan Government and the Taliban began today in Doha, the capital of Qatar. The CCeit spoke to Fawzia Koofi, one of the few women in the government’s negotiating team.
“Women are the biggest victims of the civil war and Taliban domination in the 1990s,” she says. “It is therefore crucial that women are involved in discussions on the future of our country
Koofi herself saw her dream of becoming a doctor shattered when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in the 1990s and banned education for women. Later, the group tried to kill her several times because of her political activities.
Only last month she was shot at and injured in her arm and hand. No one has claimed the attack, but the American Afghanistan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is involved in the peace negotiations, called it a ‘cowardly and criminal’ attempt to disrupt the Afghan peace process.
Yet, according to the 44-year-old woman, the current negotiations are the only way to ensure peace in Afghanistan. But not at any price, she stresses. “Democracy is the starting point. Only then can people make their own choices. This automatically creates a society in which everyone is equal, both men and women. There is no alternative to democracy
Whether the Taliban will accept that has to be established. According to Koofi, they have become milder. “Their own daughters now go to school and some of the leaders live abroad. So it seems that they have changed their lifestyle. I hope they will allow the Afghans the same lifestyle”
They had to laugh
It is not the first time that Koofi has sat in front of the Taliban. In the run-up to the official peace negotiations, she has already met the group three times, twice in Qatar and once in Russia. “I asked them why they do not have women on their negotiating team, but of course they did not answer and they laughed
Koofi remembers the first moment she walked into the room and saw the Taliban men. She was not afraid, she was emotional. “Terrible memories surfaced again.” Yet she managed to keep those feelings in check. “We were now sitting across from each other as equals. That gave me strength.” After years of oppression, she finally felt taken seriously.
Life was like a prison
Koofi studied medicine when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 1996. The group introduced strict Muslim legislation in which women were oppressed. Koofi had to stop studying because education for women was banned. “We sat at home for whole days and were only allowed to go outside under the supervision of a man dressed in a burka. Life was like a prison.”
See here who the Taliban are and what they want:
When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and deposed the Taliban, Koofi, like her father, wanted to enter parliament. She was elected as a parliamentarian and became the first female vice-president of parliament. Her father’s supporters helped her win her votes.
“As a woman I had to prove myself extra,” she says. But her biggest challenge was to create her own identity, separate from her father. She started to focus on women’s rights. For example, she succeeded in banning violence against women by law and raising the age of girls to be married off.
In 2010, she was re-elected as a Member of Parliament. That same year, the Taliban tried to kill her. The car in which she was sitting with her two daughters was shot at.
“I have experienced terrible things with the Taliban,” says Koofi. Yet she stands firm in her shoes. “It is important that we don’t go back to the days when the Taliban were in control. I don’t want other women to have to go through the same things that I did”
In recent years, the Taliban have succeeded in conquering a larger area with a great deal of violence and attacks. “Now that the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, you can see that women’s rights are again very vulnerable,” says Koofi. “On the one hand we have a society in which women participate, but on the other hand there is also a lot of violence against women and that is not punished
Women in Afghanistan are looking tensely at the peace negotiations in Doha. They are afraid that they will have to surrender their freedoms again if there is a deal and the Taliban start to reign supreme. “That fear is entirely justified,’ says Koofi. “Women have been the victims of Taliban rule. But I will make sure that they are not also victims of the peace negotiations. We are working for an Afghanistan where everyone is equal and gender is no longer a factor’