Afghan women face ‘gender emergency’, UN warns

Afghanistan updates

The UN agency for women’s empowerment warned that Afghanistan was facing a “gender emergency” as Taliban militants prevent women from leaving home and participating in public life.

Mohammad Naciri, UN Women’s Asia-Pacific director, said the agency had evidence that local insurgents were erasing women’s freedoms, undermining Taliban assurances that women would have a place in Afghan society under their rule.

“We have some evidence or reports from different provinces saying women are not allowed to leave their domicile without . . . a male chaperone,” he told the Financial Times in the agency’s first comments to media. “In some provinces women have been asked to continue to stay at home.

“We do not have to wait to see public beating of women or rising levels of domestic violence to say that violence is taking place,” he warned.

“Not allowing women to leave their domicile is definitely a form of violence . . . Not allowing women to go back to their work and preventing them from participating publicly is definitely a form of violence.”

The Taliban, which extinguished women’s rights when they ruled in the 1990s, preventing them from going to school and working, last week said that women’s rights would be protected within Islamic law.

The Islamists have sought to present a more moderate image internationally since they took power last weekend, marching into Kabul virtually unopposed after their fighters swept through the country in a lightning offensive in early August.

Naciri said the Taliban needed to clarify urgently its intentions, pointing out that the role of women under Islamic law was interpreted differently across the Muslim world.

He also warned of a gap between public statements from its leadership and the actions of its fighters on the ground.

The Taliban’s offer of amnesty to perceived dissidents or anyone associated with western forces has also been contradicted by evidence of vengeance killings and arrests. 

“What the Taliban leadership states and instructs at the capital level does not necessarily have a very efficient and timely trickle down to all the provinces,” he said.

This also applies to the security of UN personnel. While Taliban leaders in parts of the country have reportedly instructed their fighters to leave UN personnel and other international agency workers alone, reports suggest they — particularly women — are being targeted.

Naciri said his agency’s Afghanistan team, the majority of whom are women, continue to work in the country but declined to say how many out of concern for their safety.

He said the UN had a “window of opportunity” to engage with the Taliban and make sure they could continue doing their work in the country. But he warned that 20 years of progress on women’s rights since the Taliban last ruled were now at risk.

“We need to make sure that we avoid the worst-case scenario . . . that women do not have access to services, whether it is health or education or legal . . . that we would not have women participating actively in society.”

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