Women and girls being 'erased from public life' in Afghanistan

UN rapporteur warns against 'inching towards acceptance' of Taliban rule

The Taliban have been enforcing dress codes on Afghan women ever more harshly in recent weeks, according to a UN special rapporteur. EPA
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Women and girls are being "erased from public life" in Afghanistan, a UN investigator said on Friday as he urged the world not to "inch towards acceptance" of the Taliban's rule.

The Taliban's disrespect for women's rights is "unparalleled in the world", said a report handed to the UN's human rights council in Geneva.

Although the Taliban suggest they should be "given credit" for tackling narcotics and terrorism, the progress they claim has come "without meaningful progress on human rights", said special rapporteur Richard Bennett.

He said he "shares the concerns of many Afghans" that the world is gradually accepting Taliban rule.

"It's of the utmost importance to steadfastly insist that normalisation and integration of Afghanistan back into the international community will require significant improvements in human rights from the Taliban, including the situation of women and girls," Mr Bennett said on Friday.

"Every conversation [with the Taliban] by the international community, be it UN agencies or states, should include human rights and the situation of women in the agenda – no matter what the rest of the conversation is about."

No country has given full diplomatic recognition to the Taliban since they seized power in August 2021, toppling the former western-backed government.

Despite persistent criticism from abroad, the Taliban's restrictions on women and girls have only intensified, according to the special rapporteur.

His report said:

· The early weeks of 2024 have produced a "harsh enforcement" of Taliban-created dress codes, with some women violently detained

· The women concerned would not be released until a male relative gave assurances they would abide by the dress code in future

· In some areas, women are stopped from visiting local markets, making bus journeys or accessing health care without a male companion

· Not one woman sat university entrance exams in 2023 after the Taliban banned girls from attending secondary school

· Politically active women are harassed online, with messages echoing the Taliban's narrative on their expected roles in society

While such restrictions are not applied everywhere in Afghanistan, their unpredictable nature "has created a pervasive climate of fear" for women and girls, the special rapporteur said.

"Women and girls are erased from public life, peaceful dissent is not tolerated, violence and the threat thereof is used to control and instil fear among the population with impunity," he said.

"Any inclination towards normalisation of the current situation without very substantial progress on human rights, including on gender equality, should be resisted."

Recent UN-mediated talks in Doha renewed discussions on whether the Taliban could achieve the greater recognition they crave.

Some informal engagement with the Taliban has taken place, including meetings with US officials in Qatar and China receiving an ambassador. Humanitarian aid is routed via aid agencies.

But leading powers have made clear the Taliban will have to improve their human rights and counter-terrorism records before any wider engagement can be considered.

Al Qaeda's use of Afghanistan as a base before 9/11 was the trigger for the US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban in 2001. The UN says problems persist in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.

A separate review said some progress had been made in tackling drug trafficking, amid concern that the opium trade would flourish under Taliban rule.

Updated: March 01, 2024, 1:34 PM