While most foreign-policy professionals dismiss this suggestion as superfluous, or even frivolous, including women is a matter not only of principle, but also of effectiveness. Peace processes in which women participate are on average much less likely to fail and any agreement reached is more likely to last.
Some might argue that the Taliban would never negotiate with an Afghan woman. But they already have. A group of Afghan women, all high-profile government officials and activists, met with representatives of the Taliban in Oslo in 2015. The Taliban explicitly requested and initiated the meeting and later said they participated specifically to address concerns about their policies.
Shukria Barakzai, the Afghan ambassador to Norway who attended the dialogue and ran an underground girls’ school under the Taliban regime, says the women had no qualms about holding the Taliban to account for their past treatment of women.
"We were tough on the Taliban"
“It will be unbelievable to most people how tough we were on the Taliban,” Barakzai says. “But they listened patiently and respected what we were saying and it was clear that this was not the same Taliban we faced in the 1990s.”
Since that meeting four years ago, however, little else has been done to facilitate dialogue between Afghan women and the Taliban. Western governments may publicly emphasise the importance of women’s rights, but they have done shockingly little to back up their rhetoric. The Trump administration, in particular, will not listen to these concerns, as Trump himself evinces little concern for women’s rights in the United States, let alone Afghanistan.
The international community can and must step in. Under the current NATO mission, 39 countries have troops on the ground and many others provide substantial aid to Afghanistan. Their commitment will be required to support any peace deal. They should use this leverage to ensure that women are at the negotiating table, their issues are on the agenda and their rights are upheld in any deal.
If that proves impossible, these countries could launch and support a parallel Track II dialogue, focused exclusively on women’s rights, that could inform the broader negotiations. They should also increase aid expenditures in critical areas such as women’s health and education.
To be sure, any peace deal with the Taliban is likely to include difficult and distasteful compromises. But an agreement that lacks guarantees regarding the treatment of half the Afghan population is not worth having. And a peace that is not partly negotiated by women is much less likely to hold. Women’s rights, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, are not a foreign policy “extra”. They are essential to any serious efforts at conflict resolution.
Anne-Marie Slaughter & Ashley Jackson