Delegates attending an urgent debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council on the status of women and girls in Afghanistan are urging the international community to exert maximum pressure on the Taliban.
In opening Friday’s debate, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet accused the Taliban of systematic oppression and of the exclusion of women and girls from public life in Afghanistan.
She told the rights council that domestic violence and harassment have grown under Taliban rule, as have attacks against female human rights defenders, journalists, and lawyers. She said that women can no longer find employment and that secondary schooling for more than a million girls has ended.
She said an increasing number of restrictions on movement and dress have plunged women into a deep depression.
“While some of these concerns predate the Taliban takeover in August 2021, reforms at that time were moving in the right direction. There were improvements and hope,” Bachelet said. “However, since the Taliban took power, women and girls are experiencing the most significant and rapid rollback in enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades.”
The special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said the degradation of women’s rights is central to the Taliban ideology. Under Taliban rule in the 1990s, he noted, there was a marked regression in women’s and girls’ rights.
‘Misogyny and oppression’
“Therefore, it should come as no surprise that, despite public assurances from the Taliban that they would respect women’s and girls’ rights, they are reinstituting step by step the discrimination against women and girls characteristic of their previous term and which is unparalleled globally in its misogyny and oppression,” he said.
In an impassioned speech to the council, the first female vice president of the Afghan parliament, Fawzia Koofi, described the dire situation among Afghan women. She said women no longer participate in parliament, in civic or public life. She said every day one or two women commit suicide because they have no hope left.
“Afghanistan is the only place in the world that women are basically literally invisible — the second class of their citizens,” she said. “In the 21st century, it is heartbreaking. It is painful for me and for my other sisters and fellow citizens to advocate for our basic rights — the right to be visible, the right not to be erased from public life.”
The United Nations does not recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers, and the group does not have the right to speak at any U.N. forum. The Afghan ambassador of the previous government did speak and essentially confirmed what the other participants had to say.
While the debate was going on, 3,000 Islamic clerics were meeting at the first Loya Jirga, or grand council assembly, since the Taliban took over Afghanistan. Only men are present at the gathering, called to discuss national unity and issues the country faces. Taliban officials say male delegates are representing women.