If things really are to improve for women in Afghanistan, it is vital that their voices are represented in any process to establish a new government.
Last year the Afghan government set up the ‘high peace council’ – a 79-member body tasked with talking to the Taliban. There are just nine women on the council, and many women’s rights activists say these are purely symbolic positions, excluded from the real negotiations.
ActionAid has already started lobbying the UK and Afghan governments to make sure that women make up at least 30% of participants in all peace and reconciliation processes.
ActionAid country director PV Krishnan emphasises the importance of women's rights being prioritised politically and publicly:
Irrespective of who runs the government, who holds the power or who controls the affairs of the country, the primacy of human rights – and in particular women’s rights – should be respected at all levels of the society and government,
No one knows for certain if the Taliban will come back to power or what exactly this would mean for women’s rights, but some women are already making plans to leave Afghanistan if they are able.
“It is difficult to imagine what the future will be like for women’s rights groups and activists now the Taliban know the key women,” said one activist, who preferred to remain anonymous. “These women will be the key targets for them. They will have no choice but to leave.”
Teacher Belquis is among the majority of women who won’t be able to leave. “My message is this: don’t forget the women of Afghanistan,” she says. “We are the most vulnerable here. Please don’t forget us after you leave.”