Update to Human Rights Council Urgent Debate: Afghanistan

OHCHR

I wish to first express my sympathy and solidarity to all those affected by the earthquake in Afghanistan. This calamity aggravates the already desperate situation facing the Afghan population, especially women and girls.

Hunger and food insecurity, affecting over 90% of women-headed households. Growing domestic violence and harassment. Attacks on women human rights defenders, journalists, judges, lawyers and prosecutors. Massive unemployment of women, amidst an economy on the brink of total collapse. Restrictions on movement, dress, and its impact on access to basic services, and growing anxiety and depression. Women-owned and operated businesses shut down. Persistent impunity. Secondary schooling for 1.2 million girls discontinued.

These are only some of the daily experiences of women and girls in Afghanistan.

While some of these concerns pre-date the Taliban take-over in August 2021, reforms at that time were moving in the right direction, there were improvements and hope. However, since the Taliban took power, women and girls are experiencing the most significant and rapid roll-back in enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades.

Their future will be even darker, unless something changes, quickly.

The responsibility is on all of us.

Together, with Afghan women in the lead, we must ensure that the rights of all women and girls are protected and promoted.

The de facto authorities I met with during my visit in March this year said they would honour their human rights obligations, as far as consistent with Islamic sharia law.

Yet, despite these assurances, we are witnessing the progressive exclusion of women and girls from the public sphere and their institutionalised, systematic oppression.

As a de facto authority exercising effective control, the Taliban are a primary duty-bearer in view of Afghanistan’s legal obligations under international treaties, including the obligation to eliminate discrimination against women and ensure women’s right to equal participation in civic and public life, including politics and decision-making fora.

The impressive women I met during my visit, from across many sectors of society, were clear: they want direct, in-person, dialogue with the de facto authorities. Work is underway to facilitate this request of Afghan women, led by UNAMA.

Today, I ask again the de facto authorities to take up these women’s urgent calls for a seat at the table, and to engage in meaningful dialogue. This will only benefit Afghanistan as a whole.

I also call upon the de facto authorities to set a firm date for the opening of secondary schools for girls, and to ensure quality education, without discrimination, and resources for teachers.

I urge them to remove restrictions on women’s freedom of movement including the requirement of maharam (male chaperone) and the mandatory face covering, and enabling their right to access employment, including self-employment.

I also encourage the re-establishment of independent mechanisms to receive complaints from the public and protect victims of gender-based violence. All acts of gender-based violence must be independently investigated and those responsible held to account.

Finally, I strongly encourage the de facto authorities to engage with predominantly Muslim countries with experience in promoting women and girls’ rights, as guaranteed in international law, in that religious context. In that regard, the recent country visit by an Organization of Islamic Cooperation delegation is a significant step.

As for the international community, more concerted efforts are needed to insist that the de facto authorities urgently restore, protect and promote the rights of Afghan women and girls.

There are some opportunities for that. Governors in some regions of the country are applying policies in ways that provide options for women and girls. We should build on those openings to expand women’s participation, education and economic opportunities.

The international community could also support ongoing initiatives of Afghan women leaders and thinkers, as well as civil society groups, to design – under Afghan women’s leadership – a strategy to promote the rights of women and girls, with clear benchmarks and expectations.

Beyond being right, it is also a matter of practical necessity. Amid the economic crisis, women’s contribution to economic activity is indispensable, which itself requires access to education, and freedom of movement and from violence.

I urge those Member States who have imposed sanctions to facilitate the much-needed support to people in need.

Furthermore, human rights, including women’s rights and concerns, must be at the centre of all humanitarian assessments and programming. Women should have safe and equal access to humanitarian aid, including unhindered access for female aid workers.

Excellencies,

Principled and sustained advocacy for women and girls’ rights should be part of any engagement with the Taliban. This has been – and will be continue to be – a priority of the work of my office and the UNAMA Human Rights Service in Afghanistan.

We are at a crucial moment in time, with the fate of the country’s women and girls hanging in the balance. They deserve no less than our determined and immediate action. And they must hear this Council’s voice.

Thank you.

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