Systematic Crackdown on Women’s Rights in Afghanistan Leading to Femicide, Say UN Experts Even As UNAMA Reaffirms Commitment To Stay in Country


The latest: The period of reviewing the United Nations’ activities in Afghanistan finally came to an end on May 5 and despite the Taliban not having reversed its ban on women working for the UN, the United Nations Assistance Mission In Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that it will continue to aid the war-torn nation. The decision comes even as UN experts have warned that Taliban restrictions on Afghan women and girls may amount to femicide if they are not reversed.


Go deeper:

  • A team of UN experts reviewed the situation in the country between April 27 and May 4.
  • The team in a statement accused Taliban authorities of the “most extreme forms of misogyny” and said there could be multiple preventable deaths that may amount to femicide if the restrictions are not reversed.
  • “We are deeply concerned about the apparent perpetration in Afghanistan of gender persecution – a systematic and grave human rights violation and a crime against humanity,” experts said in the statement.
  • “While we cannot make determinations of individual criminal responsibility, we consider on the basis of information received, including first-hand accounts, that women and girls are being targeted because of their sex and due to the social constructs used to define gender roles, behaviour, activities, and attributes,” they added.
  • “This extreme situation of institutionalized gender-based discrimination in Afghanistan is unparalleled anywhere in the world,” the statement noted.
  • The experts met with Taliban representatives, civil society, women groups, entrepreneurs, religious leaders, teachers, journalists, and victims of human rights violations, among others, in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and northern Balkh province.
  • The UN experts also said the Taliban are imposing their interpretation of Islam, which appears not to be shared by the vast majority of Afghans. They expressed alarm about widespread mental health issues and accounts of escalating suicides among women and girls.
  • “As girls and women are prohibited from attending school above grade six, as well as university education, and they can only be provided care by female doctors unless the restrictions are reversed rapidly, the stage may be set for multiple preventable deaths that could amount to femicide,” said the experts, who shared their preliminary observations from an eight-day trip to Afghanistan.
  • While talking to the U.N. experts, numerous women shared “their feelings of fear and extreme anxiety, describing their situation as a life under house arrest.”
  • Taliban authorities were quoted as telling the mission that women were working in the health, education, and business sectors and that efforts were underway to ensure that “women could work according to Sharia, separated from men.”
  • The de facto authorities reiterated that they were working on the reopening of schools but did not provide a clear timeline. However, they indicated that the international community should not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, the U.N. experts said.
  • The bans have reportedly contributed to an increase in the rates of child marriages and forced marriages, as well as the growth of gender-based violence “perpetrated with impunity,” the statement said.
  • The UN experts noted, however, that gender-based discrimination in Afghanistan precedes the Taliban rule and is engrained in society, and urged the international community not to use Afghan women and girls for political purposes, saying their rights should never be a negotiation tool.
  • They urged the international community to adopt further normative criteria and measures to combat the broader phenomena of gender apartheid, which they define as an institutionalized system of discrimination, segregation, humiliation, and exclusion of women and girls.


Take note that the experts, appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, include Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, and the head of the working group on discrimination against women and girls, Dorothy Estrada-Tanck.


Zoom out: This comes even as the UN reaffirmed its “commitment to stay” in Afghanistan on Friday, in a review assessing its operations in the country in light of the Taliban banning women from working for the world body.

  • The United Nations announced on April 4 that the Taliban had barred Afghan women from employment in UN offices countrywide, a prohibition that had previously only affected NGOs but spared the UN. The UN mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, subsequently launched the review, and concluded Friday that it was committed “to stay and deliver on behalf of the men, women and children of Afghanistan,” Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the secretary-general, said.
  • It also launched an appeal “to our donors to keep funding this assistance people need,” he said.
  • In a statement issued from Kabul, UNAMA reiterated its condemnation of the ban, which “seriously undermines our work, including our ability to reach all people in need.”
  • However “we cannot disengage despite the challenges,” it said, noting that it had conducted “extensive consultations with multiple Afghan stakeholders, including civil society and women’s groups, member states and donors.”
  • “We continue our focused, principled and constructive engagement with all possible levels of the Taliban de facto authorities to obtain a reversal of this ban and ensure the safety of all UN and aid personnel,” it said.
  • UN entities on the ground in Afghanistan will “continue to discuss appropriate working modalities,” Haq said, adding that “humanitarian operations continue to be undertaken.”
  • Since the ban, UNAMA has asked all of its Afghan staff, both men and women, to work from home, but other agencies in the country “have had different ways of handling the situation,” he noted.
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