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Friday, March 24, 2023
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 31 2023 (IPS) - Recent visits to Afghanistan by senior-led UN delegations underscore the urgency to protect the rights of women and girls, including their access to humanitarian aid and their right to work.
The first delegation was led by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, who called for the Taliban to reverse its decisions that have limited women’s and girls’ rights.
The delegation, led on behalf of the Secretary-General, also included senior leaders from the UN; Executive Director of UN-Women, Sima Bahous; and the Assistant Secretary-General of the Department of Political, Peacebuilding Affairs, and Peace Operations, Khaled Khiari.
The delegation completed a four-day visit to Afghanistan to appraise the current situation and to engage with Taliban authorities. This visit followed the recent decree by the Taliban to ban women from working in national and international non-governmental organizations. This is among the latest in a series of decrees that have further stripped women and girls of the rights and means to actively participate in society.
In this mission, Mohammed and Bahous met with affected communities, humanitarian actors, and civil society in the cities of Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat.
“My message was very clear: 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.
Mohammed later told Al-Jazeera that some work had been resumed by three NGOs in Afghanistan, particularly in the health sector. “I think that’s because the international community, and particularly the partners who are funding this, were able to show the implications and the impact of woman-to-woman services, particularly childbirth,” she said.
“What is happening in Afghanistan is a grave women’s rights crisis and is a wake-up call for the international community,” Bahous said. “It shows how quickly decades of progress on women’s rights can be reversed in a matter of days. UN-Women stands with all Afghan women and girls and will continue to amplify their voices to regain all their rights.”
The recent bans on women working in NGOs have forced these organizations to temporarily suspend their operations, which can no longer be delivered safely or meaningfully.
“The effective delivery of humanitarian assistance is predicated on principles that require full, safe, and unhindered access for all aid workers, including women,” said Mohammed in the UN’s official statement.
On the other hand, statements from Taliban spokespersons and senior government officials have stated that the current authorities would respond to issues according to the principles of Islamic law, so they claim.
“The international community, countries, and involved parties should also respect the principles, traditions, and spirituality of our country,” said Bilal Kamiri, a deputy spokesperson for the Taliban following the DSG’s meeting.
The de facto authorities in Afghanistan have acknowledged that they are reliant on international aid in order to revitalize a country where over 28 million, more than half of their population, are in need. These authorities must, therefore, also be aware that this aid would come with the basic stipulation that all the people of Afghanistan must have their rights and dignities respected, including women and girls.
How the UN will proceed in its ongoing negotiations with the Taliban will remain to be seen while they continue to reiterate their solidarity with the women and girls of Afghanistan.
The UN delegation led by the Deputy Secretary-General also met with its partners, civil society, and Government leaders, including the leadership of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Islamic Development Bank.
It was understood between partners and countries that the UN’s efforts must continue and be intensified to reflect the urgency of the situation and the immense pressure that humanitarian aid workers already face.
On Tuesday, UNESCO dedicated the International Day of Education to the women and girls of Afghanistan. In a statement, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay noted the international community’s responsibility to ensure the restoration of their rights immediately. “The decisions made by the de facto authorities of Afghanistan threaten to wipe out the development gains made over the past twenty years,” she said in an official statement.
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator for OCHA was in Afghanistan meeting with Taliban authorities to reconsider the edict to ban Afghan from working in NGOs.
In an interview with the BBC, Griffiths shared that he was receiving “encouraging responses” from Taliban ministers, stating that there was “a consistent pattern of Taliban leaders presenting us with exceptions, exemptions, and authorizations for women to work.”
“I think they’re listening, and they told me they will be issuing new guidelines in due course, which I hope will help us reinforce the role of women,” he said.
He added, “If women do not work in humanitarian operations, we do not reach, we do not count, the women and girls we need to listen to. In all humanitarian operations around the world, women and girls are the most vulnerable.”
The sentiments from UN officials and those publicly shared by the Taliban are at clear odds with one another. Meanwhile, humanitarian aid organizations have been prevented from providing the full capacity of their services, leaving millions of Afghans more vulnerable than before. Meanwhile, women and girls cannot openly protest or object to the loss of their basic right to education without risking violence and imprisonment.
The UN and the international community must continue to listen to and amplify the voices of the vulnerable communities and prioritize them in the coming weeks and proposed meetings. For these promised countermeasures, let us hope they do not wait for the next ban on women to put them into action.
IPS UN Bureau Report
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