Afghan negotiator: Nobel nomination nod to women’s campaign

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Afghan peace negotiator Fawzia Koofi is one of four women representing the Afghan government who have been sitting down at the negotiating table with members of the Taliban for talks that began last month in the Arab state of Qatar.

She was also one of 318 candidates – 211 individuals and 107 organizations – nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year, a nomination that Koofi said gave a boost to Afghan women seeking to claim their rightful role in shaping a peaceful future for Afghanistan.

The prestigious award on Friday went to the World Food Program for its efforts to combat hunger in regions facing conflict and hardship at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has driven millions more people to the brink of starvation.

Koofi, a 45-year-old women’s and human rights activist, former member of parliament and survivor of two armed attacks, said the nomination gave her “more strength and authority so that we can better defend and represent Afghan women.” She spoke to The Associated Press from Qatar before the WFP award was announced.

The 19th daughter of a rural village leader in northeastern Badakhshan province, Koofi holds a master’s degree in international relations and human rights from the Geneva’s University of Diplomacy.

In August, she survived an assassination attempt with light wounds to her hand. She survived another armed attack in eastern Kabul in 2010.

She has actively worked for women’s rights since the Taliban were in power, including maintaining schools for girls in her own home in Badakhshan and in the capital, Kabul.

The women on the government’s 21-member negotiating team have vowed to preserve women’s rights in any power-sharing deal with the Taliban. This includes the right to work, education and participation in political life – all denied to women when the Taliban ruled the country.

To this day, Afghanistan remains deeply conservative and in the 19 years since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban, successive governments have not passed a women’s rights bill. The situation for women is even more troubling in the roughly half of the country the resurgent Taliban have gained control over in the past few years.

Koofi was the first female deputy speaker of the Afghan parliament and worked for the inclusion of a gender budget in Afghanistan’s financial budget. She was also the country’s first female leader of a political party.

As head of the women and human affairs committee during her second term in parliament, she played an active role in the enactment of protective laws for women and children, particularly the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women and the Law on the Protection of Children in Afghanistan.

Last year, Koofi was dropped from the list of parliamentary candidates amid a public controversy involving some members of her family. The Afghan attorney general’s press office did not immediately return calls by the AP seeking comment on the allegations.

The talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban negotiating team are a critical part of the U.S. peace deal signed with the Taliban in February, which spells out the withdrawal of U.S. troops and is believed to be the country’s best chance at peace.

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