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    Gains for Afghan women under threat, warns Oxfam

    KABUL (PAN): A quick-fix bargain for peace could reverse improvements for Afghan women's rights gained over the last decade, an international aid agency warned on Monday.

    If sidelined in search of peace, Afghan women could face a dangerous future after 2014, when NATO-led troops are scheduled to transfer the security responsibility for the whole country to local forces, the group said.

    In a report, Oxfam noted a downward slide in the advances women began to make after the 2001 ouster of the Taliban regime. It referred to strong gains in girls' education and a quota system for women in Parliament.

    "However, there is now just one female minister, compared to three in 2004. The number of women in the civil service has dropped from 31 percent in 2006 to 18.5 percent in 2010," the UK-based organisation said.

    It added the Elimination of Violence Against Women law that criminalises harmful traditional practices such as honour killings, child marriages and giving away girls to settle disputes was being enforced in only 10 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

    Orzala Ashraf Nemat, the co-author of the report, wrote: "Recent history has been harsh to Afghan women – and we don't want to see it repeated. We have made incredible gains in the last 10 years. Women are working as doctors, lawyers and businesswomen."

    She went on to ask: "But what is life going to be like for us in the next 10 years? Already life is getting tougher for Afghan women. Afghan women want peace – not a stitch-up deal that will confine us to our homes again.  We are a voice that must be heard."

    The number of women on the High Peace Council did not bode well for their participation in future peace talks with the Taliban, the agency said. There are only nine women on the 70-member panel.

    Oxfam called for the Afghan government and international community to use the run-up to December's Bonn conference, which would set the course for Afghanistan beyond 2014, to develop a more inclusive peace process, which involved people from all parts of society.

    Louise Hancock, the agency policy advisor in Afghanistan and co-author of the report, said: "Afghan women tell me they do not feel that they can count on any of the main players in peace efforts to safeguard their rights. They want a place at the table so that they can protect their hard-won gains."

    It urged world leaders to ensure that any peace deal included benchmarks to guarantee women's rights, such as monitoring the numbers of girls in school and the numbers of women in public life.

    pr/mud