Days after the U.S. signed a deal with the Taliban, a group notorious for its mistreatment of women, a female mayor from Afghanistan said the women of her country are worried about their future, and she appealed directly to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for support.
Zarifa Ghafari, who fought oppression and sexism to become the head of her conservative Afghan town at age 26, was one of twelve honorees Wednesday at the annual Women of Courage Awards Wednesday in Washington. Chosen to make remarks on behalf of the diverse group of winners, Ghafari said women's empowerment can contribute to the peace and stability of a nation. She then addressed the situation in Afghanistan directly.
"The women of my generation have not forgotten the reign of the Taliban, and we are, as always, worried for the future," she said, turning directly to Pompeo, who was seated over her right shoulder. "Therefore, let me ask for your continued support to ensure the Afghan Peace Process does not erase the gains that have been made since the dark days of the Taliban regime."
The agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban, signed Saturday in Doha, makes no specific mention of women's rights. Instead, it says that if the Taliban upholds its counter-terrorism promises and enters inter-Afghan talks with the government in Kabul, U.S. forces will leave the country over the next 14 months.
At the signing ceremony, Pompeo urged the Taliban to "embrace the historic progress obtained for women and girls and build on it for the benefit of all Afghans." U.S. officials have repeatedly said that women will have a seat at the table during the inter-Afghan dialogue, but at the same time, they have mostly left the negotiations up to the Afghans themselves.
Under Taliban rule, women were banned from working or holding office, were forced to wear face-covering robes in public, and could not attend school. Today, 30% of students are women, burkas are no longer compulsory and an historic number of women ran for parliament last fall.
"Whatever we women of the world have already achieved, let us not taken for granted," Ghafari warned the audience. "It can be taken from us if we are not vigilant and strong."
The International Women of Courage award started in 2007 and "recognizes women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership," according to the State Department. This year's winners include a journalist from Armenia, a student activist from Nicaragua and an anti-FGM activist from Burkina Faso and a Pakistani human rights attorney nicknamed the Iron Lady of Balochistan.