‘If we had women in the Supreme Court, they would be able to interpret laws, so men would not tell them how to be good Muslims’
Farkhunda Naderi is a member of Afghanistan’s parliament from Kabul, representing the National Unity Party of Afghanistan. Afghan women’s rights is critical to her agenda. Elected in 2010, Naderi has served as a member of the Commission on Women’s Affairs, Human Rights and Civil Society, and has been the only female participant in the Chantilly conferences on peace. She recently visited India at the invitation of the Asia Society and spoke to Gayatri Rangachari Shah. Excerpts:
How do Afghans feel about the withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) this year?
It’s a mixed feeling of excitement about gaining self-sufficiency combined with an anxiousness of how we will cope. We would like to think of it as gaining responsibility, in moving towards sovereignty for ourselves. We would not like to think of it as the ISAF or Nato totally cutting off relations and forgetting Afghanistan when they leave. We continue to need training and security. We need to make our security organs more professional. Moving along these lines means we are celebrating the transfer of responsibility.
People do fear for 2014 because there is not one form of transition. There is the political transition, the security transition and also an economic transition, because the jobs created by the presence of the international community are going to go away. So we have to find alternatives. There is fear and anxiousness. One way to combat them is through elections. For the first time in our history, the elections will demonstrate peaceful transfer of power.
Although challenges remain, there have been significant gains for women’s rights in Afghanistan in the past decade. Next year’s election is vital to solidify these gains. How will the outcome of the 2014 elections affect women?
Women face many challenges. We do not want to lose what we have gained, and we are not satisfied with what we have so far. For politicians it is an especially big challenge, because we are at the front line of bargaining for more rights. We have to maintain the rights we have won over the past 12 years but also ensure that these rights are not just for a small group in our community and extend to all women across the country.
Can these hard-fought gains in women’s rights be rolled back?
There is indeed fragility, for different reasons. One of these is that in the past 12 years, we have not succeeded in having women’s participation in the Supreme Court. If we could have had that, we would not feel so vulnerable about the rights achieved so far. We feel our achievements are fragile because we are not really rooted in the main play of politics inside the country. If we had women in the Supreme Court, women would have access to the main power of the country. They would be able to interpret laws according to Islamic norms, and if women could have that opportunity, men would not be able to tell them how to be good Muslims. Because this hasn’t happened, all the other gains feel politically fragile. At any stage our Supreme Court can declare any particular position or role to be against Islamic norms.
What will it take to get a woman in the Supreme Court?
The president will have to introduce qualified candidates to parliament, which has not happened over the past 12 years, and parliament will have to vote. We do have qualified women who could be on the Supreme Court, so this is not about quotas. There are very competent women who would be excellent on the bench, but unfortunately, so far, they have been blocked. We are hoping that the president will do it even now, before the elections next year.
How is the government going to ensure that women come out to vote next year, and how will it guarantee their security?
We are putting pressure on the candidates to get women to come out to vote, because at the end of the day they need votes. We are putting pressure so that during the elections we will have a lot of policewomen at the polling stations.
The High Peace Council, appointed to negotiate with the Taliban, only has nine women in its 70 member body. How can more women get involved?
The High Peace Council is very important, and to have just nine women members clearly implies that women are not respected in that particular institution. Let’s not forget that the Security Council Resolution 1325 talks about women’s involvement in the peace process. That has to be respected by Afghanistan and the international community. Second, its not just the physical presence of women but their participation in important debates on peace that is significant. If you have just nine women, they will feel threatened in airing their views amongst a majority of men discussing sensitive issues. We are lobbying to have more women, but the role of the international community is essential here. The international community must put conditions that women’s participation must increase.
What role can a neighbour like India play in promoting gender equality?
Regional countries like India, which have close ties to the government of Afghanistan, are essential to our development. Education scholarships provided by India to Afghanistan are much appreciated. Strong relations between female politicians in India and Afghanistan should be established, and also between civil society and the younger generation. Capacity building in terms of the army and police has to respect the 25 per cent quota built into our constitution for women’s participation. I would like to see this 25 per cent extended across multiple fields, including scholarships.