Photo: UAE Mission to the UN via X

Eighty Countries, Except the U.S and the Region, Call on Taliban to Reverse Restrictions on Women

As the world struggles to pressure the Taliban into more cooperative behavior, 80 countries come together to demand that the regime in Kabul reverse its restrictive edicts against women, the largest collective call thus far.

In a statement that was delivered on Tuesday, October 3, by the  United Arab Emirates (UAE) permanent representative to the United Nations, these countries expressed their concerns over continued human rights violations in the country, particularly those of women and girls.

This is not the first time the international community has sounded alarms over the Taliban’s behavior towards women, which they say is a systematic form of discrimination, oppression, and violence. In mid-September at the annual UN General Assembly, regional countries including the UAE and Qatar voiced their worries about the Taliban’s unjustifiable behavior.

Among the countries co-sponsoring the statement, however, are not any country from the regions immediately around Afghanistan, such as Pakistan, India, Iran, or any of the country’s Central Asian neighbors.

Since their return to power two years ago, the Taliban have tried to make up for their restrained relationship with the West by maintaining a higher degree of engagement with regional countries including Russia and China. The group’s de facto foreign minister, Amir Khan Mutaqqi, is currently in Beijing after he met with Chinese diplomats on the sidelines of a Russian-led platform to discuss Afghanistan at the regional level known as the Moscow Format.

Both China and Russia are not the signatories of the statement.

Although many Western nations at the UN have signed the statement, the United States is not one of them. Washington, which seems to prioritize its counter-terrorism cooperation with the Taliban, has tried to distance itself from issues such as human rights that would undermine its national-security-based engagement with the regime in Kabul.

In his address to the UN General Assembly this year, President Joe Biden preferred not to mention the crisis in Afghanistan at all. Yesterday, the House Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul said that the Biden Administration is downplaying the risk of terrorism in Afghanistan, particularly the Taliban’s continued ties with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

The Taliban are yet to respond to the collective call that asks them to let women and girls play an equal part in the country’s socio-economic development. However, in previous instances, the regimes tried to exonerate themselves by claiming that some of the restrictions are temporary and that their behavior stems from the country’s culture, thus calling such demands as interference in their domestic affairs.

Since August 2021, the Taliban has gradually implemented a complete ban on women’s public life, barring them from accessing education, employment, entertainment, and traveling.

Although the group says their restrictive edicts are to implement Islamic laws, no Islamic country in the world practices Taliban’s governance model nor has any of them thus far supported the group’s treatment of women. The UAE, which has spearheaded the joint statement and is the penholder on Afghanistan file at the UN Security Council, is among many Muslim nations who have demanded the Taliban to allow girls to attend secondary schools and join the workforce. 

Human rights organizations believe that the Taliban’s treatment of women could constitute a ‘gender apartheid’, a structural categorization that can be investigated and tried in the International Court under the Rome Statute. At the recent UN Security Council Meeting on Afghanistan, Karima Bennoune, the former UN Special Rapporteur for Cultural Rights said the Taliban’s behavior qualifies as gender apartheid and the international community must take action against it.

A recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, published in early September, also argued that the watchdog, based on two years of research and analysis, concluded that the Taliban’s policies towards women can be categorized as ‘crimes against humanity of gender persecution’ and urged the ICC to investigate it.

The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, has repeatedly said the regime’s persecution of women in Afghanistan is ‘systematic’.  In a joint report with the UN Working Group in June, Mr. Bennett highlighted the dire situation of human rights under the Taliban, particularly the widespread and systematic discrimination against women and girls. The report documented that between September 2021 and May 2023, the Taliban imposed over 50 edicts against women and girls. 

The humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan has exacerbated the suffering and exclusion of women in Afghanistan caused by the Taliban’s policies. Speaking at the UN Security Council, the head of UN Women said that their findings show a robust increase in mental health issues among women directly related to their oppression by the Taliban and their exclusion from public life. In recent months, reports of suicide by women and severe depression have increased across Afghanistan.

Although the 80 countries have vowed to stand united and firmly with the women of Afghanistan until their rights have been fully restored, the likelihood of the regime in Kabul paying attention to such statements is very low.

The international community initially welcomed the Taliban’s short-lived tolerance of civic space, including women’s participation in public life and free media, but the group gradually brought back the same restrictions it had imposed on the population during the 1990s, ignoring the international chagrin.