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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Afghan Women's Groups Look for Increased Role

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Women leaders from Afghanistan and around the world on Tuesday pledged to work together to demand a greater say in how Afghanistan is run after years of ill-treatment at the hands of the Taliban.

At the opening of a three-day women's summit to coincide with talks in Germany on setting up an interim administration, women leaders from the United Nations and the European Union pledged solidarity, adding that the time was never better to regain rights lost over the past five years, when the Taliban came to power.

"We are here to show solidarity," said Mary Robinson, UN high commissioner for human rights. "Whatever government emerges from the talks in Bonn, we must ensure full participation [of women]," Robinson said.

While a conclusion with set demands is not expected until the end of the summit, Robinson said that she expects the summit to call for the inclusion of women in the interim government.

"One woman would be only a token ... women must be in there, that is the measure of success," she said.

Other women urged delegates to formulate concrete demands for equal rights enjoyed by their colleagues in other countries.

"Under the mujahedin, women experienced what I would call gender apartheid. Under the Taliban, women suffered what could be likened to gender cleansing," said EU Social Affairs Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou, who called for Western countries to use the coalition built to fight terrorism, to also combat inequalities. Diamantopoulou said the EU would integrate the issue of gender equality into its external policies by next year to ensure that nations seeking trade deals with the 15-nation bloc respected equal rights.

She added that having female participation was "vital" in any new government in Afghanistan.

Much of the Taliban's reputation for rigidly interpreting Islam stemmed from the restrictions they placed on women, which included banning formal education for girls to restrictions of movement in open society.

While many of the women participating in the summit came directly from Afgha-nistan, several were also exiles, active in promoting the plight of women back home.

"We have vested our hope on the moment and the day that Afghanistan is no longer divided," said Leila Enayat-Seraj, a Geneva-based activist, before the start of the summit. Enayat-Seraj fled Afghanistan in 1993, before the Taliban came to power, but could already see a crackdown against women under the then Northern Alliance-led government, which enforced mandatory use of veils.

In a video message, Queen Noor of Jordan praised the efforts of Afghan women in their fight for equality, but urged them to find a balance between traditional Islamic values and modern Western values.