New York, July 31 (ANI): As Afghan and Western governments explore reconciliation with the Taliban, Afghan women fear that the peace they long for may come at the price of rights that have improved since the Taliban government was overthrown in 2001.
"Women do not want war, but none of them want the Taliban of 1996 again; no one wants to be imprisoned in the yards of their houses," the New York Times quoted Rahima Zarifi, a Women Ministry representative from the northern Baghlan Province, as saying.
Afghan women have expressed a range of fears about a Taliban return, from political to domestic - that they will be shut out of negotiations about any deals with the insurgents and that the Taliban's return would drive up bride prices, making it more profitable for a family to force girls into marriage earlier.
For many women, the prospect of a resurgence of the Taliban or other conservative groups is stark.
"It will ruin our life," the NYT quoted Shougoufa, 40, as saying as she sorted through sequins and gold sparkles at the bazaar in the city of Pul-i-Khumri in Afghanistan's north.
"I am a tailor and I need to come to the bazaar to buy these things. But if the Taliban come, I will not be able to come. Already we are hearing some girls cannot go to their work anymore," she added.
In the Pashtun-dominated district of Taghob, east of Kabul, girls' schools have been closed and any teaching is done at home, the provincial education director said.
"Look, our main priority is to feed our people, to provide rest and to protect their lives," said Haji Farid, a Member of Parliament.
"Why are people focusing on education and sending girls to school? Boys walk three, four, five kilometers to their school. How can a girl walk two, three, four kilometers? During a war you cannot send a girl beyond her door. No one can guarantee her honor. So it is hard to send your daughter to school," he adds.
In Kandahar, Helmand and Zabul, all unstable southern provinces, there are girls' schools open in the provincial capitals, but in outlying districts there are few, if any. In Zabul Province, there are just six schools for girls, four in the capital and two outside, but few families send their girls to school because of the fighting.
In Baghlan Province, in northern Afghanistan, the situation for women has steadily worsened over the past year.
Three months ago, a female member of the provincial council was paralyzed in an attack, and a woman was stabbed to death in the daytime in the middle of the provincial capital earlier in July.
Women's advocates are concerned that they are increasingly being shut out of political decisions.
At an international conference in Kabul on July 20, which was meant to showcase the country's plans for the future, President Hamid Karzai said nothing about how women's rights might be protected in negotiations.
"Right now it's a big challenge for women to go to school and work, but at least according to our Constitution and laws they have the right to do so," said Nargis Nehan, 31, an Afghan women's advocate.
"If the Taliban come back, by law women will be restricted and not allowed to leave their homes," she said, adding, "Maybe not everywhere, but in those districts where they are in power." (ANI)