The UAE's ambassador to the UN Lana Nusseibeh on Wednesday urged the Taliban in Afghanistan to let girls inside classrooms, saying educating women was “fully compatible” with Islam.
Ms Nusseibeh said the UAE “stands by the women and girls of Afghanistan”, who have faced restrictions on their education and job opportunities since the Taliban routed the US-backed government and swept back to power last August.
She spoke with reporters alongside the UN ambassadors from Norway, Albania and Brazil before the UAE led its first UN Security Council meeting since taking over the 15-member body’s rotating presidency on Tuesday.
“Religion cannot be used to justify extremist ideology or to excuse discrimination against women and girls,” Ms Nusseibeh said in New York.
“The UAE stands by the women and girls of Afghanistan and as they demand their rights to work, to education and to participate in public life, which is fully compatible with the religion of Islam and with our culture.”
The Taliban have rolled back women's rights gains made during the two decades of foreign involvement in the country, excluding many women from the workplace and limiting travel unless accompanied by a close male relative.
Most girls have been barred from attending school beyond the age of 12 or 13. The militant group says that all girls will be allowed to return to classrooms later in March.
“We're strongly committed to maintaining that women and girls have full access to education, the workplace and public life and will vigorously pursue this objective,” said Ms Nusseibeh.
This could be achieved by “stressing that their empowerment and protection are not just a moral and an ethical duty, but a necessity for building a peaceful and stable Afghanistan”, she added.
Later, addressing the council, the UN’s envoy to Afghanistan Deborah Lyons expressed concern over women protesters who were rounded up by Taliban fighters last month and “disappeared”, released only after a public outcry.
“Although they were released, another group of women was arbitrarily arrested and remains in detention,” said Ms Lyons.
“We are concerned by restrictions on women and girls’ fundamental rights, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, respect for minorities, and freedoms of assembly and expression.”
The UAE, Albania, Brazil, Gabon and Ghana joined the UN council for two-year terms beginning on January 1, meaning they can take part in meetings, vote on resolutions and help draft official statements.
Members take turns in alphabetical order to hold the council’s presidency each month, during which they manage the agenda, preside over meetings and decide on topics for debate.