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How Afghan women perceive the third Doha meeting: A Zan Times survey

The third Doha meeting has begun.  This United Nations-hosted conference is being held on June 30 and July 1 in Doha, the capital of Qatar.  For two days, special representatives from more than 30 countries of the world as well as from international organizations will discuss the political situation of Afghanistan. The purpose of the meeting is said to be to increase international interaction with Afghanistan in a coherent and structured manner. 

Rosemary DiCarlo, UN under-secretary-general for political and peace affairs, is in charge.  In the cities and villages of Afghanistan, women either know nothing about the nature and importance of the meeting or feel that holding such a gathering will result in positive changes in the Taliban’s attitude. As a result, the women of Afghanistan demand that the international community apply practical pressure on the Taliban so that they will have no choice but to grant basic rights to women. 

In Jawzjan province in northern Afghanistan lives 61-year-old Salimeh*, who barely scrapes a living out of weaving and livestock farming. This housewife tells Zan Times that she knows little about the Doha conference. She is stooped under the burden of life and stays away from politics. “I don’t know where Doha is or even what is happening there. But if there is a discussion about women’s studies and women’s work in this meeting, it is important. It is good for girls to study, their minds will be enlightened, and they will be respected if they work,” Salimeh tells Zan Times. “We didn’t study, our lives were spent raising cattle and sheep.” She adds that if women’s rights and the economic situation of Afghanistan are not discussed, then she believes that this meeting will be seen as incomplete, unable to lead to positive results for the people of Afghanistan.

The view of the older housewife in Jawzjan province is echoed by a young woman living in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul. Kameleh* is a 21-year-old who teaches primary school in the morning and religious school students after dinner. Even though she lives in the capital and spends most of her time outside her family home, Kameleh says that she knows little about the third Doha meeting. “I am not particularly interested in pursuing this issue. I learned from friends and acquaintances that such a meeting has been held or will be held, she explains to Zan Times. “In my opinion, these meetings have become extremely common and do not have any benefit for the situation of women in the country because the current government [Taliban regime] is powerful and will never allow women and girls to achieve their fundamental rights.” She wants the United Nations to force this group to comply with the fundamental rights of girls and women in the country by sanctioning the Taliban and cutting off aid from the international community.

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In this report about how women in Afghanistan view the Doha conference, Zan Times interviewed 16 women in the capital, provincial centers, districts, and villages of eight provinces, including Kabul, Kandahar, Jawzjan, Bamyan, Ghor, Nimroz, Helmand, and Herat. The women and girls were both literate and illiterate and ranged in age from 15 to 61. The overwhelming majority – 69 percent of interviewees – tell Zan Times that they did not have the necessary knowledge about the meeting or what was being discussed at Doha. Also, 75 percent of the interviewees say that the Doha meeting is of no importance to them, explaining that the Taliban will not care about demands issued by the United Nations or other representatives and that the United Nations possesses only the tool of moral recommendation. When asked what they would do if they had a chance to attend the Doha meeting, 88 percent of the women say that they would dicuss freedom of education, study, work, and the participation of women in economic and political fields.

Since the beginning of June, women’s protest movements have intensified their criticism of the Doha meeting, its agenda, the participation of Taliban representatives, and the exclusion of women. Women have launched campaigns on social networks, organized gatherings, recording audio and video messages from within Afghanistan itself to be later posted online, and participated in street protests outside Afghanistan, including in Pakistan, Iran, France, and Germany. 

The main demand of women’s protest movements is for diplomats and international organization representatives to boycott the Doha meeting. As one protest movement wrote: “We, protesting women, ask the United Nations to stop negotiating with the Taliban about the fate of the Afghan people; because the Taliban are not representatives of the Afghan people, and no person or organization has the right to deal with the fate of the Afghan people, especially women.”

Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, are also protesting the arrangements of the Doha conference. Heather Barr, co-director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, wrote on her X page that the United Nations is bringing the Taliban to Doha with a plea, but it prevents women from attending this meeting.

In contrast, while confirming that women and their rights will not be a part of the agenda of the third Doha meeting, the United Nations has said that this meeting is not being held as a way to recognize the Taliban and its regime but rather, the meeting’s purpose is to force the Taliban to fulfill international commitments.

Meanwhile, the Taliban are celebrating as it seeks to promote its own agenda at Doha. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Taliban says that their delegation will discuss international sanctions on the financial and banking system of Afghanistan, the growth of the private sector, and the fight against drugs.

Farshid Aram* contributed reporting.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees and writer. Sana Atef* and Mehtab Safi are the pseudonyms of  Zan Times journalists in Afghanistan.

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