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A Peace Penalty for Afghan Women?

Interviewee: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Deputy Director, Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria, Senior Staff Writer, CFR.org
November 12, 2010

As the United States and its allies seek a way out of Afghanistan, they are backing the Afghan government's efforts to establish peace talks (WSJ) with the Taliban. This has made many women in Afghanistan, who remember the brutalities of the Taliban regime from 1996-2001 and cherish the rights they have gained over the past nine years, concerned for their future. "Women want peace, but what they fear is that their rights will be the currency for any negotiation," says Gayle Lemmon, deputy director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at CFR.

"What the international community can do is to make certain that [women] are heard and that they are not overrun in the rush for a peace deal," Lemmon says. So far, she notes, that hasn't happened. Additionally, the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai has drawn the ire of women's organizations, in particular for a controversial family law (AP) enacted in August 2009 that allows Shia husbands to deny their wives food and money  if they refuse to have sex.

Still, Lemmon points out, women have made real gains in the last nine years. They have been guaranteed equal opportunity under the Afghan constitution and enjoy a 25 percent quota in the parliament.

However, security concerns cast a shadow over women's abilities to exercise their basic rights, including access to education, says Lemmon. She recommends the Obama administration have its own red lines when it comes to negotiating with the Taliban-- ensuring that the constitution continues to uphold equal rights for women and their representation in the parliament, and allow women the right to education and work.

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