UN’s Top Female Official Says Taliban Leaders Divided Over Women Policies in Afghanistan After 4-Day Visit

What happened? The UN deputy chief and head of UN Women ended her four-day fact-finding mission to Afghanistan on Friday and urgently called on the Taliban leadership to put the good of the country first and end recent policies towards women and girls that have confined them in their own homes, and violated their basic human rights. The UN in a statement also said that the Taliban leadership seems to be divided regarding the policies on women as some are cooperative regarding progress while others are not.

Go deeper:

  • The UN delegation consisted of Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed; the Executive Director of UN Women, Sima Bahous, and the Assistant Secretary-General for UN political, peacebuilding and peace operations, Khaled Khiari.
  • The UN highlighted that there were many “different points of authority” among the Taliban and the UN team was trying to get them to “work together to advance the goals that they want, including progress in women’s rights.
  • Mohammed described the talks regarding women’s rights as tough and cautioned that it would be a very long journey before the leadership took the fundamental steps required for international recognition of their rule.
  • “I think there are many voices we heard, which are progressive in the way that we would like to go,” Mohammed said. “But there are others that really are not.”
  • Mohammed added that more pressure needs to be applied on the Taliban internally and globally in order to make significant progress in this regard.
  • Over the course of their four days they engaged with Taliban leaders in Kabul and Kandahar and even spoke to various stakeholders in the women rights sector in Herat like affected communities, humanitarian workers, civil society and other key actors along with meeting some former Afghan government officials.
  • In the meetings with Taliban leaders in Kabul and Kandahar, the UN stated that they expressed their concern over the latest decree banning women from working for national and international non-governmental organizations as it undermines the work of numerous organizations helping millions of vulnerable Afghans.
  • “My message was very clear”, said the UN deputy chief. “While we recognize the important exemptions made, these restrictions present Afghan women and girls with a future that confines them in their own homes, violating their rights and depriving the communities of their services,” Mohammed said.
  • “Our collective ambition is for a prosperous Afghanistan that is at peace with itself and its neighbours, and on a path to sustainable development. But right now, Afghanistan is isolating itself, in the midst of a terrible humanitarian crisis and one of the most vulnerable nations on earth to climate change,” she added. “We must do everything we can to bridge this gap.”
  • Bahous commended the resilience of Afghan women and stated that the UN will continue to advocate and fight for women rights. It emphasized that the international community should recognise how quickly decades of progress on women´s rights can be reversed in a matter of days.
  • The UN also said that while the Taliban has eased restrictions on women working in the healthcare sector, more needs to be done in the humanitarian aid delivery field as Afghanistan faces one of its harshest winters.
  • “The effective delivery of humanitarian assistance is predicated on principles that require full, safe and unhindered access for all aid workers, including women,” Mohammed said.
  • The global organization also noted that not much has been done by the Taliban to reverse the draconian decrees imposed by the group. “It’s very clear that what we’ve seen in terms of basic rights for women and girls is a huge step backwards,” Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman to the UN secretary-general, said. Haq said the “key thing is to reconcile the (Taliban) officials that they’ve met who’ve been more helpful with those who have not.”
  • Th UN stressed that the Taliban needs to fulfil its international commitments and adhere to global norms in order to be recognised.
  • This visit by the most senior woman at the UN also sends a message that women can and should play roles at all levels of society.
  • In Kandahar, which is Taliban’s birthplace, Mohammed met with Taliban’s Deputy Governor Maulvi Hayatullah Mubarak. She also met with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has remained in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in 2021.

Back story: In late December, the Taliban barred aid groups from employing women, paralyzing deliveries that help keep millions of Afghans alive, and threatening humanitarian services countrywide. In addition, thousands of women who work for aid organizations across the war-battered country are facing the loss of income they desperately need to feed their own families. Limited work by women has been allowed in some sectors, including the health field.

  • The ban on local women working in the crucial aid sector came into force last month, prompting many aid agencies to suspend operations, as they were unable to reach many families in need, without the support of female staff.
  • The latest clampdown on working women followed edicts from the fundamentalist Taliban to close universities to female students, until further notice, and preventing girls from attending secondary school.
  • Women and girls have also been ordered to stop using parks, gyms, public bath houses, and banned from most areas of the workforce, together with other restrictions on their freedom of movement, in line with the authorities’ interpretation of Sharia law.

Zoom out: The visit to Afghanistan followed a series of high-level consultations on Afghanistan across the Gulf and Asia, the UN had reported.

  • The delegation met with the leadership of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Islamic Development Bank, groups of Afghan women in the Turkish and Pakistani capitals of Ankara and the Islamabad, and a group of Ambassadors and Special Envoys to Afghanistan, based in Doha.
  • “The delegation convened with government leaders from the region and religious leaders to advocate for the crucial role and full participation of women and rally support for the Afghan people”, the statement added.
  • Throughout the visits, the UN’s crucial role as a bridge builder towards “finding lasting solutions” was emphasized, “as well as the urgency to deliver lifesaving support and maintain effective engagement, led by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).”
  • The top UN delegation called for efforts to be intensified to reflect the urgency of the crisis facing Afghan women and girls, “and stressed the importance of a unified response by the international community.”
  • The UN reported that a proposal to hold an international conference on women and girls in the Muslim World, during March this year, “was also considered and agreed in principle.”

Interesting nugget: Haq apologized for a photo on social media of seven men from the U.N. delegation’s security team posing in front of a Taliban flag, calling it “a mistake” and “a significant lapse of judgment.”

  • No country has recognized the Taliban, and Afghanistan’s seat at the United Nations is still held by the previous government headed by Ashraf Ghani. The U.N. refers to the Taliban as the country’s “de facto authorities.”
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