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Top officials strongly condemn Taliban ban on Afghan women working for UN

In statements on Wednesday, Secretary-General António Guterres was joined by deputy chief Amina Mohammed, in describing the latest escalation of the de facto authorities’ suppression of women, as a violation of their inalienable fundamental human rights.

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“It also violates Afghanistan’s obligations under international human rights law, and infringes on the principle of non-discrimination, which is a core tenet underpinning the United Nations Charter”, said Mr. Guterres, in statement issued by his Spokesperson.

Rights violations mount

Since overthrowing the democratically elected Government of Afghanistan in August 2021, Taliban leaders have steadily eroded the rights of women and girls in public life, introducing a ban on secondary schooling, higher education, working for non-governmental organisations, and their rights to freedom of movement.

Bans are already in force preventing them in effect from working, studying, and travelling without male chaperones.

‘Essential’ to life-saving operations

The UN chief said that female staff members were “essential” for all UN operations, which are directed by the Assistance Mission in the country, UNAMA, and which include the delivery of life-saving assistance.

“The enforcement of this decision will harm the Afghan people, millions of whom are in need of this assistance”, the statement said. “The Secretary-General calls on the Taliban to immediately revoke the decision and reverse all measures that restrict women’s and girls’ rights to work, education and freedom of movement.”

Speaking to journalists at UN Headquarters in New York on Wednesday ahead of a sustainable development report briefing, the Deputy Secretary-General reminded that she had met many of the women now facing a ban and the loss of their livelihoods, in a visit to Afghanistan at the beginning of the year.

‘Taking all measures’ to support women staff

“We reiterate that both Afghan women and men are essential to all aspects of our work”, she said, adding that the UN “was taking all possible measures right now to support our national female staff at this difficult time.”

She said UN national female staff will continue to receive their salaries, but until further clarification is received, all national staff – both men and women – are being told not to report to the office.

She said she had been involved in a meeting with the Foreign Affairs minister of the de facto authorities earlier Wednesday morning, and pledged that UN leadership would “continue to engage” with Taliban representatives, “as well as neighbouring countries” to resolve the latest human rights infringements.

An OCHA staff member speaks with displaced women in the eastern province of Nangahar in Afghanistan.
© UNOCHA/Charlotte Cans

An OCHA staff member speaks with displaced women in the eastern province of Nangahar in Afghanistan.

Most vulnerable worst hit

The President of the General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, also strongly condemned the move, calling it a “blatant violation” of women and girls’ human rights.

“The consequences of this decision would harm the Afghan people, in particular the most vulnerable segments of the population”, he said, noting that Afghanistan needs to get on the path towards sustainable development, “and for that, it should mobilize the country’s full potential.”

‘Utterly despicable’

The UN human rights chief Volker Türk, described the latest erosion of rights for women in Afghanistan as an “utterly despicable” move.

“This is a systematic, relentless assault on the people of Afghanistan as a whole by the Taliban”, he said, who he said seemed to be “working to incapacitate, intimidate and harass half of the population.”

He called on the leadership to rethink all of the restrictive policies introduced to curb women’s rights, “for the sake of the future of the country.”

UN Women vows to stay and deliver

The head of UN Women, Sima Bahous, said her agency “was determined to continue in every way possible to deliver vital services and support, so no woman or girl will be left out or left behind.”

Almost a quarter of households in Afghanistan are female-headed, she pointed out in a statement responding to the Taliban decree, adding that what the people need, is “more aid, not less.”

“I saw and heard this firsthand from Afghan women on my recent visit there”, she continued. “At this dark hour, we must not forget them. The removal of skilled women aid workers, decreases women and girls access to critical life-saving services, and it increases their risks when they have to seek assistance from men instead.”

Banning Afghan women from working with the UN in Afghanistan is an intolerable violation of the most basic human rights.

I call on the Taliban to immediately revoke this decision & reverse all measures restricting women’s & girls’ rights to work, education & freedom of movement.

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