Support in Afghanistan for women's rights to vote and go to school remains strong at nearly 90 percent, according to a new poll out from ABC News and its partners. Despite the growing insurgency and an increasingly grim view of security in the country, 69 percent of those polled support a women's right to work outside the home, and 64 percent say they support women working in government.
These numbers counter the commonly held perception that there is little community support in Afghanistan for girls education and women's right to work. Where the challenge lies is in what comes next for the country.
Security remains the biggest question facing the nation and this has a particularly strong impact on women. In regions which have seen little Taliban presence, more than 60 percent assess women's rights in a positive light. That number sinks to 28 percent who say that women enjoy their constitutionally protected rights in regions where Taliban anti-government incidents have become a fact of daily life. Of those who report they have no girls schools in their area, 30 percent report nearby classrooms have closed, more than half because of threats and intimidation.
Talk of Taliban reconciliation has surged in recent months alongside an influx of United States troops. While many in the international community have come to see peace talks as the surest way to achieve a graceful exit from what has become America's longest war, women remain gravely concerned about what, exactly, a peace deal would mean for their lives. Teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs and community activists from around the country say that they are very eager to welcome back their Afghan brothers should they agree to support their rights to work and schooling, but they fear the details of just what, exactly, a settlement might entail. Would the Taliban respect their rights to learn and to contribute to their communities, women ask? Or will these rights become collateral damage as the world rushes to find a way out of Afghanistan?
According to the poll, while 89 percent of those polled -- men and women -- view the Taliban unfavorably, support for negotiations with the Taliban is on the rise. This despite the fact that nearly 70 percent of respondents say they do not think the Taliban have become more moderate since they were last in power. Women in Afghanistan show far less appetite for a Taliban settlement than men. Only 49 percent of women in cities say they would support a deal with the Taliban compared to 84 percent of men.
The ABC figures show what has been clear on the ground for a while: support for women's rights to work and schooling remains robust. But escalating insecurity and fears about rising violence are leading many to view a settlement as the only real option in ending the war. The question now is whether the international community will take women into account when it comes to talking peace with the Taliban. And whether women will have a substantive voice in any talks which will determine their country's future -- and their own.
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