UN asks Taliban to revoke policies against women

Published December 28, 2022
An 18-year-old Afghan student protests alone against the ban on women’s higher education, outside the Kabul University as members of Taliban forces stand guard.—AFP
An 18-year-old Afghan student protests alone against the ban on women’s higher education, outside the Kabul University as members of Taliban forces stand guard.—AFP

GENEVA: The Taliban must immediately revoke their policies targeting women and girls in Afghanistan, the UN rights chief insisted on Tuesday, condemning their ‘terrible’ consequences.

“No country can develop — indeed survive — socially and economically with half its population excluded,” Volker Turk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.

“These unfathomable restrictions placed on women and girls will not only increase the suffering of all Afghans but, I fear, pose a risk beyond Afghanistan’s borders.” He said the policies risked destabilising Afghan society.

“I urge the de facto authorities to ensure the respect and protection of the rights of all women and girls — to be seen, to be heard and to participate in and contribute to all aspects of the social, political and economic life of the country,” said Turk.

On Saturday, the Afghan rulers banned women from working in non-governmental organisations. The Taliban have already suspended university education for women and secondary schooling for girls.

Lone protester outside Kabul varsity seeks to show ‘power of a single Afghan girl’

“This latest decree by the de facto authorities will have terrible consequences for women and for all Afghan people,” Turk said.

“Banning women from working in NGOs will deprive them and their families of their incomes, and of their right to contribute positively to the development of their country and to the well-being of their fellow citizens.”

The move is the latest blow against women’s rights in Afghanistan since the Taliban reclaimed power last year.

“The ban will significantly impair, if not destroy” those NGOs’ capacity to deliver essential services, Turk said, calling it more distressing with Afghanistan in the grip of winter, when humanitarian needs are at their highest.

Aid work suspended Several foreign aid groups announced they were suspending their operations in Afg­h­­anistan. The international community has made respecting women’s rights a sticking point in negotiations with the Taliban government for its recognition and the restoration of aid.

“Women and girls cannot be denied their inherent rights,” said Turk. “Attempts by the de facto authorities to relegate them to silence and invisibility will not succeed.”

Protest in Kabul

Risking arrest, violence and social stigma, an 18-year-old Afghan student endured Taliban taunts and insults as she staged a solo protest against the ban on women attending university.

“For the first time in my life, I felt so proud, strong and powerful because I was standing against them and demanding a right that God has given us,” Marwa said while requesting anonymity.

Her sister shot a video of the silent protest with a phone from a car as Marwa held up a a placard that read “Iqra”, the Arabic word for “read”, just metres from the entrance to the Kabul University campus.

“They said really bad things to me, but I stayed calm,” she said. “I wanted to show the power of a single Afghan girl, and that even one person can stand against oppression.”

Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2022

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