Where were the women when the long-awaited historic agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah took place? After weeks of wrangling and disputes over who had won the Afghan elections, the two challengers for the Presidency agreed to a power sharing deal, yet at this momentous occasion, no women were present.
Afghan women took part in decision making thousands of years ago but on this day, they were notably absent. Despite the assertion of Hamdullah Mohib, respected National Security Advisor to President Ashraf Ghani stating that women's rights will be 'at the front' of Taliban talks, no women were at the ceremony. Even Rula Ghani, the president's Lebanese born and open-minded wife was not present.
Where were the successors to the small yet significant number of pioneer women who played important roles in the Afghanistan of yesteryear? Historical sources show that Afghan women who were close to powerful rulers, contributed to major government decisions during war and peace, shaping the politics of their future. Yet on this agreement day women have been airbrushed out of the scene. Why?
Since the ousting of the Taliban there have been concerted efforts to include women in gatherings in public life and there have been settings where women's presence has been symbolically increased, including in Parliament where there are structures to ensure quotas of women in political life.
Cabinets of both Presidents Karzai and Ghani appointed female ministers and deputy ministers, including the author of this piece, Seema Ghani. In recent years President Ghani appointed many female deputy ministers despite heavy criticism that the appointees lacked experience. However, he stood his ground in keeping them in their posts including those critical to the security of the country.
What changed? Why were these appointees marginalised during the signing ceremony of such a historic event? Women parliamentarians have valid views on the political situation, and they should have been represented. Does the ARG (presidential palace) no longer believe in the necessity of their presence when such a significant event will have profound effects on the lives of the female 50% of Afghanistan's population.
Have the power holders forgotten their own standards and promises to the nation? Almost two decades of hard work and commitment to democracy by both national and international policy makers have been brought into question by the absence of women. Hundreds of people have been injured when they tried to have their vote counted. Lives have been lost and many others scarred due to Taliban attacks during the elections. Have the two leaders and their advisors forgotten the suffering and sacrifices made so they can continue to hold power and indulge in power sharing 'games' and now believe they can ignore women?
In a world preoccupied with Covid-19, maybe this is just another example of 'buried news'. Where was the oversight of the elections to prevent fraud? There have been so many questions and challenges to the results that finally the two contenders came together in an effort to bring an end to the impasse. But the tragedy for women in particular is that they have been ignored even though this event happened in Kabul where it is still relatively safe for people to travel to attend meetings. It is difficult to believe that the exclusion of women from the Agreement ceremony was anything other than deliberate.
Those of us caring about Afghanistan's women must be heard. Their hopes, held over the last 18 years, must be unfounded. The picture paints a thousand words, showing that when it comes to political participation of any vital significance, 50% of the population is unrepresented. We must shout from the rooftops to redress this injustice.