Women stage a rare protest on a Kabul street to mark International Women's Day, calling on the global community to protect Afghans
Kabul (AFP) - Afghanistan under the Taliban government is the “most repressive country in the world” for women’s rights, the United Nations said Wednesday, as world powers issued a joint call demanding improvements.
Marking International Women’s Day, about 20 women held a rare demonstration in a Kabul street on Wednesday, calling on the world to protect Afghans, AFP journalists witnessed.
The Taliban government adheres to an austere interpretation of Islam and has imposed a slew of restrictions on girls and women since seizing power in August 2021.
“Afghanistan under the Taliban remains the most repressive country in the world regarding women’s rights,” Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, said in a statement.
“It has been distressing to witness their methodical, deliberate, and systematic efforts to push Afghan women and girls out of the public sphere,” said Otunbayeva, a former president of Kyrgyzstan.
Foreign ministers of 21 countries and the European Union issued a joint statement that said Afghanistan “has seen one of the steepest declines globally in respect for the human rights of women and girls.”
“Unless reversed, the harmful effects of these reprehensible measures will be devastating and irreparable for Afghanistan’s economy and society – effects that will be felt by every Afghan,” they said.
“Together we urge the Taliban to respect all people of Afghanistan, deliver on their commitments to the Afghan people and the international community, and reverse all decisions and practices restricting women’s and girls’ exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
While mostly signed by Western nations, signatories included Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam which enforces its own strict religious rules and was one of the only countries to recognise the previous Taliban government toppled in a 2001 US invasion.
Muslim-majority Turkey also signed the statement, which was released by the US State Department.
- Women persist in protests -
Taliban authorities have removed women from all but essential government jobs, or are paying them a fraction of their former salary to stay at home.
Women are also barred from going to parks, funfairs, gyms, and public baths, and ordered to cover up in public – ideally with a burqa.
But the biggest crackdown has been on teenage girls and university students, with the authorities banning them from secondary schools and higher educational institutions.
Some women have staged sporadic protests against the bans – risking arrest, violence and social stigma for taking part – but authorities usually disperse them swiftly.
“The time has come for the United Nations to take a decisive and serious decision concerning the fate of the (Afghan) people,” one of the protesters at the Kabul rally read from a statement.
No country has officially recognised the latest Taliban government as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers, with the right to education for women a sticking point in negotiations over aid and recognition.
More than half the country’s 38 million people are facing hunger and nearly four million children suffer from malnutrition, aid agencies say.
The crisis was compounded late last year when the Taliban leadership banned Afghan women from working with NGOs, forcing several aid agencies to suspend their vital work.
Foreign aid has also declined dramatically since Afghanistan’s assets were frozen by the United States after the Taliban returned to power, further aggravating the crisis.
Alison Davidian, the United Nations’ special representative for women in Afghanistan, said the implication of the government’s policies “impacts all Afghans and will resonate throughout generations”.