Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, the Executive Director of UN Women, Sima Bahous, and the Assistant Secretary-General for UN political, peacebuilding and peace operations, Khaled Khiari, spend four days on a fact-finding mission in Afghanistan, to engage with Taliban leaders, and “underscore UN solidarity with the Afghan people”, according to a press release issued to correspondents on Friday.
Call to reverse course
In meetings with de facto authorities in Kabul and Kandahar, “the delegation directly conveyed the alarm over the recent decree banning women from working for national and international non-governmental organizations, a move that undermines the work of numerous organizations helping millions of vulnerable Afghans.”
The latest clampdown on working women followed edicts from the fundamentalist Taliban to close universities to female students, until further notice, and preventing girls from attending secondary school.
Excluded from public life
Women and girls have also been ordered to stop using parks, gyms, public bath houses, and banned from most areas of the workforce, together with other restrictions on their freedom of movement, in line with the authorities’ interpretation of Sharia law.
The ban on local women working in the crucial aid sector came into force last month, prompting many aid agencies to suspend operations, as they were unable to reach many families in need, without the support of female staff.
In response, Taliban rulers did announce some exemptions, that would allow women health workers to go about their lifesaving work.
All Afghans suffer due to restrictions: Mohammed
“My message was very clear”, said the UN deputy chief. “While we recognize the important exemptions made, these restrictions present Afghan women and girls with a future that confines them in their own homes, violating their rights and depriving the communities of their services”.
“Our collective ambition is for a prosperous Afghanistan that is at peace with itself and its neighbours, and on a path to sustainable development. But right now, Afghanistan is isolating itself, in the midst of a terrible humanitarian crisis and one of the most vulnerable nations on earth to climate change,” she added. “We must do everything we can to bridge this gap.”
During their mission, Ms Mohammed and Ms Bahous met with affected communities, humanitarian workers, civil society and other key actors, in Kabul, the Taliban heartland of Kandahar, and Herat.
‘Extraordinary resilience’: Bahous
“We have witnessed extraordinary resilience. Afghan women left us no doubt of their courage and refusal to be erased from public life. They will continue to advocate and fight for their rights, and we are duty bound to support them in doing so,” UN Women’s top executive Ms. Bahous said.
“What is happening in Afghanistan is a grave women’s right crisis and a wakeup call for the international community.
“It shows how quickly decades of progress on women´s rights can be reversed in a matter of days. UN Women stands with all Afghan women and girls and will continue to amplify their voices to regain all their rights.”
The United Nations and its partners, including national and international non-governmental organizations, are helping more than 25 million Afghans who depend on humanitarian aid to survive, and remain committed to staying and delivering.
“While the recent exemptions to the ban introduced by the de facto authorities are opening spaces for humanitarians to continue – and in some cases resume – operations, these remain limited to few sectors and activities”, said the UN statement on Friday.
Need for ‘effective delivery’
“The effective delivery of humanitarian assistance is predicated on principles that require full, safe and unhindered access for all aid workers, including women”, Ms Mohammed said.
The visit to Afghanistan followed a series of high-level consultations on Afghanistan across the Gulf and Asia, the UN reported.
The delegation met with the leadership of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Islamic Development Bank, groups of Afghan women in the Turkish and Pakistani capitals of Ankara and the Islamabad, and a group of Ambassadors and Special Envoys to Afghanistan, based in Doha.
“The delegation convened with government leaders from the region and religious leaders to advocate for the crucial role and full participation of women and rally support for the Afghan people”, the statement added.
Urgent push for support
Throughout the visits, the UN’s crucial role as a bridge builder towards “finding lasting solutions” was emphasized, “as well as the urgency to deliver lifesaving support and maintain effective engagement, led by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).”
The top UN delegation called for efforts to be intensified to reflect the urgency of the crisis facing Afghan women and girls, “and stressed the importance of a unified response by the international community.”
The UN reported that a proposal to hold an international conference on women and girls in the Muslim World, during March this year, “was also considered and agreed in principle.”