Recently, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the issue of gender apartheid in Afghanistan and compel the Taliban to stop policies of gender apartheid. Issues of human rights and women’s rights are fading from the global landscape’s attention. It is more important than ever to continue to fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan and to hold the Taliban authorities accountable.
Ongoing gender apartheid worsens conditions for Afghan women and girls in all aspects of life. The United Nations expresses hope that the Taliban will reverse its course, despite restrictive policies issued by the de facto authorities which show no signs of stopping. The group has solidified its exclusionary stronghold in the country and its influence grows through the implementation of madrassas, religious institutes across Afghanistan. The Taliban views criticism of its rule as an orchestrated attack from the west against the interpretation of Sharia law. It is important to note that neither Islamic law nor Afghan culture call for banning women from education, work or erasing them from society.
The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) produced three reports, underscoring the ongoing attack on fundamental human rights, including women’s rights, and other violations. In spite of slight economic improvement, these issues remain of critical concern.
The international community has come to a juncture where it is forced to bridge the gap between the Taliban de facto authorities’ policies and the international norm. The UN and the international community do not currently recognize the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan. Yet, the issue of direct engagement has to be contended with in order to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance. This is a process from which women are also excluded, limiting its efficacy and reach. According to the representative from the United Kingdom, “Afghanistan cannot be self-reliant when 50% of its people are excluded from society.”
Roza Otunbayeva, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of UNAMA voiced her concern over the “more than 50 decrees issued by the Taliban, aimed at eliminating women from public life and education.” In response to this, she cited a recent report in which more than 46 per cent of Afghan women stated that the Taliban should not be recognized under any circumstances. This was taken from an UNAMA survey of 529 women surveyed across 22 different provinces. Women’s voices must be heard and acted upon. UN Women’s Sima Sami Bahous says “Afghan women continue to call on international actors to use all means at their disposal to leverage and pressure for change, including the use of sanctions without exceptions for travel, and the issue of non-recognition.”
The UN recommends the de facto authority engage in dialogue with neighboring countries and the international community to counter present security threats. Although security incidents have decreased, the presence and activity of terrorist groups is a concern. Without respect for human rights, economic growth, and resilience to natural disasters, the risk of radicalization among young people grows, threatening the prospect of peace in the future.
Karima Bennoune, international legal expert and civil society representative, urged the Security Council to adopt resolutions labeling the treatment of Afghan women by the Taliban as an institutionalized framework of “gender apartheid.” This is one step in the right direction toward recognizing and addressing the dehumanizing existence women have been relegated to.