Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan last August, United Nations officials and the international community have repeatedly voiced concerns over reports of restrictions of human rights, especially for women and girls. These concerns were confirmed last month when the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (U.N.A.M.A.) published its report on the ongoing human rights situation over the past year.
Although Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid vowed that the group would respect women’s rights within Islamic law and form an inclusive Islamic government during the Taliban’s first news conference in Kabul on Aug. 17th, 2021, the report paints a worrying picture for women and girls. “[D]espite the improved security situation since August 15th, the people of Afghanistan, in particular women and girls, are deprived of the full enjoyment of their human rights,” said Markus Potzel, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan.
The U.N.A.M.A. report found that the Taliban had been progressively restricting and taking away women and girls’ rights to fully participate in education, the workplace, and other areas of public life since two days before that speech. The termination of dedicated reporting pathways, justice mechanisms, and shelters has limited the access to justice for victims of gender-based violence. The report also found that the Taliban prevented girls from returning to secondary school, meaning a generation of girls will not complete their full 12 years of basic education.
Mujahid called the U.N. report “baseless and propaganda,” asserting that its findings were “not true.”
The right to education is enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Girls’ education, in particular secondary education, is essential for stable and peaceful societies. When countries invest in girls’ education, not only do they strengthen economies and reduce inequality, but they give women and girls the opportunity to fulfill their potential. UNICEF found that girls who receive a secondary education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthier and longer lives. These girls also earn higher incomes and are able to participate in the decisions that most affect them.
The report’s findings come as no surprise. This May, the Taliban dissolved Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission, saying the body was “not necessary.” Despite promises of a softer rule than the strict control the group meted out in the five years after it first captured Kabul in 1996, the Taliban have shut down several institutions enshrining freedom for the people of Afghanistan, including the Electoral Commission and the Ministry for Women’s Affairs.
U.S. forces deposed the Taliban’s initial rule in 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. However, Taliban forces retook most of the country’s 34 provincial capitals last August, along with the country’s capital city, Kabul. President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, allowing the Taliban to seize the abandoned presidential palace and once again subject Afghanistan to its rule.
More combat and more bloodshed cannot stabilize Afghanistan or uphold its citizens’ human rights. Since last August, the U.N.A.M.A. found, there have already been more than 2,000 civilian casualties. Responding with violence will only further exacerbate this catastrophe. Military action in Afghanistan creates an opportunity for the Taliban to further restrict freedom and women’s rights in the name of war. Instead, the international community should engage Taliban leaders in dialogue, encouraging the group to respect human rights and pressuring its leaders to comply with international law.
This dialogue must include women. Women have historically been left out of every stage of policy- and decision-making, from war-making to peace-making. In order to achieve peace and stability following human rights abuses and conflict, women must be consulted, engaged with, and allowed to meaningfully participate. There is strong evidence suggesting that women’s participation in peace processes contributes to longer, more resilient peace after conflict.
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