Women's rights key to reintegrating Afghanistan after Taliban takeover, UN says

The UN Security Council requested the independent assessment from Secretary General Antonio Guterres, which was delivered this month.

Since the Taliban returned to power, women have been effectively banned from public life. AFP
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An independent assessment on how the UN should address Afghanistan's issues says the Taliban administration's desire for recognition could prove crucial to creating an inclusive government and ensuring respect for women's rights.

The UN Security Council requested the independent assessment from Secretary General Antonio Guterres, which was delivered this month.

“Mandating the independent assessment last March, our primary aim was to address the existing gap for a coherent international strategy towards the de facto authorities,” said the UAE ambassador to the UN, Lana Nusseibeh.

“This should include a reckoning with their de facto control over the territory of Afghanistan that doesn't simply lead to a legitimisation of their power by default.”

The report outlines a strategy for political engagement to reintegrate Afghanistan after the Taliban's takeover in August 2021.

After having spent “extensive time” in Afghanistan, Feridun Sinirlioglu, who developed the report, said the situation of women and girls – and the restrictions on education in particular – “was the single most common issue” raised in consultations.

Mr Sinirlioglu said the Taliban have tried to justify these restrictions as being part of Islam and Afghan tradition, though no similar restrictions exist in any other member state of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation.

“The basic rights of women and girls, including the right to education and to work, and representation in public and political life, are not only fundamental obligations of a state but also critical to build state capacity for long-term development and economic growth and peace and security,” read the assessment.

“Any formal reintegration of Afghanistan into global institutions and systems will require the participation and leadership of Afghan women.”

Since the Taliban returned to power, girls have been barred from attending school and women from universities.

The Taliban have also stopped most Afghan female staff from working at aid agencies, closed beauty salons, barred women from parks and restricted travel without a male guardian.

In response to the assessment, the Taliban said in a statement seen by The National that their leaders' decrees have protected women's basic rights.

They also noted that 23.4 per cent of all civil servants are female and unprecedented numbers of women are in the business, commerce and manufacturing sectors.

“The Islamic Emirate has collected thousands of street beggars – a legacy of the previous regime – a majority of whom were women, and allocated them regular stipends,” the Taliban authorities said.

The assessment recommended that the UN pursue an inclusive form of governance and engage with all Afghans.

It said that pursuing “intra-Afghan dialogue” would enable progress towards the complete normalisation and integration of Afghanistan into the international system.

“Afghanistan is a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian, multi-linguistic and multicultural society," the report said.

"The inclusion of all Afghan communities in the nation’s governance structures is central to the social and political stability of Afghanistan."

The Taliban, who interpreted this as a demand for power-sharing, rejected “any attempts to bring back failed figures from the past”.

They also said the appointment of a UN special envoy on Afghanistan as suggested by Mr Sinirlioglu to help advance “intra-Afghan dialogue” was “unacceptable”.

In a meeting behind closed doors at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Malta's ambassador to the UN, Vanessa Frazier, highlighted concerns over the political, humanitarian, security and human rights situation in Afghanistan.

"This was in response to the independent assessment, produced by Feridun Sinirlioglu, which was tasked to consider the current challenges faced by Afghanistan," Ms Frazier said.

Amongst these concerns, Malta said, were the lack of inclusive governance, the humanitarian crisis, the continued security risk posed by terrorist groups, and the deeply concerning human rights situation, including of women and girls.

Afghanistan’s UN representative Naseer Ahmed Faiq welcomed the report and told The National it reflects key elements and demands of the Afghan people, which “have been emphasised in the past two years in the Security Council”.

In an open letter to the UN, 71 Afghan civil society organisations, networks and coalitions in Afghanistan and in exile, expressed "deep reservations" about the report.

They found the assessment to be "influenced by the security and geopolitical interests of the member states and regional powers, rather than the need and plight of the Afghanistan people".

They believe the report is developed based on a "pre-assumed policy of appeasement and engagement" with the Taliban without considering recommendations of women, civil society and other groups.

They said several of the signatories have attended consultations with the assessment team but cannot find any of their recommendations in the report.

Updated: November 29, 2023, 12:53 PM