Watchdog warns Taliban talks may harm Afghan women

Afghan woman and girl Women are regularly threatened in Afghanistan

The Afghan government's attempts to seek reconciliation with the Taliban could harm women's rights, the US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch says.

The group says that women living in areas where the Taliban have regained strength have suffered intimidation, violence and even death threats.

It says that safeguarding women's rights must be made a priority in any negotiations with the militants.

Campaigners say Afghan women do not have a say in how their lives are run.

After the Taliban were driven from power in 2001, women in Afghanistan, even in conservative areas in the south, returned to jobs as teachers, civil servants and health workers.

But the intimidation of women has increased as the Taliban have regained strength in those areas, the Human Rights Watch report says.

'A heavy price'

The 70-page report - The Ten-Dollar Talib and Women's Rights - warns that President Hamid Karzai's government may be willing to compromise on women's rights as part of any deal with the insurgents.

"Afghan women want an end to the conflict. But as the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban draws closer, many women fear that they may also pay a heavy price for peace," the report says.

"Reconciliation with the Taliban, a group synonymous with misogynous policies and the violent repression of women, raises serious concerns about the possible erosion of recently gained rights and freedoms," it adds.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Kabul says threatening letters, know as night letters, have been sent to women to warn them to give up work.

In one case, a female aid worker, who had been receiving threats from someone claiming to be a member of the Taliban, was shot as she left her office in Kandahar. She later died.

Her killer has never been caught, our correspondent reports.

The Human Rights Watch report documented cases where religious police gave harsh beatings to women they found to be inappropriately dressed and teenage girls were forbidden to attend school.

Women teachers and others lost their jobs, it says.

Men working for the government or foreign companies have also received threats but women are being specifically targeted, and suffer greater intimidation, the group says.

More than 90 women, who lived in areas under insurgent control, were interviewed for the report.

The Afghan government, and its international partners, have said that talks with insurgents will be an essential step to finding peace in Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai's government says militants must first renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution.

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