Afghanistan must ensure women have a say in negotiations between the government and the Taliban and other insurgent groups, Human Rights Watch said on Monday, warning that gains made on women’s rights could slide if they are not given a seat at the table.

Fledging peace talks between insurgents and the Afghan government have been on hold following news leaked in July that the Taliban’s reclusive founder, Mullah Omar, had been dead for more than two years.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said this was an opportunity for authorities in Kabul to honour commitments made to include women in the process when the peace talks resumed.

“Afghan President Ashraf Ghani promised to include women in negotiations with the Taliban at the ‘right time,'” Sarah Taylor, HRW’s women, peace, and security campaigner said in a statement.

“But for full and meaningful participation, every stage of the process is the ‘right time’ to involve women.”

Fourteen years after the Taliban was toppled by a U.S.-led military intervention, Afghanistan remains deeply conservative and many fear women’s rights will be rolled back after the withdrawal of the most foreign troops last year.

Afghan women are still exchanged to settle disputes amongst families and suffer high levels of violence. Laws designed to protect them are under threat, and parliamentary quotas have been reduced.

While safeguarding women’s rights was one of Ghani’s promises prior to his election in September last year, he has struggled to put his agenda into action in a country where the Taliban once banned women from almost all areas of public life.

In July, for example, the first woman to be nominated to the country’s Supreme Court was rejected by parliament.

A November 2014 study by Oxfam found that in the 23 rounds of peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban between 2005 and 2014, women were only present on two occasions.

HRW said foreign donors, who have poured in over $100 billion in aid into Afghanistan, must insist the government improves women’s rights, including by ensuring women’s full participation in negotiations with the Taliban and other groups.

“The pause in peace negotiations creates the opportunity for the Ghani government to work with women’s rights activists and groups to get the negotiation process right going forward,” said Taylor.

“Ghani should take steps now to genuinely integrate women into the peace process at every level … advising the president and sitting across the table from Taliban negotiators.”

http://in.reuters.com/ Updated On: September 2, 2015