UN envoy says ‘progress’ on Afghan women’s rights | News

A UN delegation, which held talks with senior Taliban officials in Afghanistan, has made progress on women’s rights, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told Al Jazeera on Saturday, warning that much remains to be achieved. .

The high-level meeting earlier this week comes amid widespread criticism of the Taliban government for banning women from universities and NGOs last month. Millions of high school girls have already been confined to their homes while schools remain closed. The Taliban have gone back on their promises of women’s rights and press freedom since coming to power in August 2021 after the Western-backed government collapsed.

“There has been some progress. Some exemptions have been made to the edicts that have covered the health sector,” said Mohammed, who led the delegation, referring to the resumption of work by three NGOs last week.

“I think that’s because the international community, and in particular the partners funding this, were able to show the implications and impact of woman-to-woman services, particularly childbirth,” she added.

Afghan women chant slogans during a protest against the ban on university education for women, in Kabul, Afghanistan. [File: AP Photo]

It’s not enough, he said, adding that this was just the beginning. “We have opened a crack and hope that through the rollbacks we can eventually get to a stage where those edicts are neutralized and women go back to school and girls and of course the workplace.”

The 61-year-old UN diplomat said her delegation met cabinet members including the foreign minister, deputy prime minister and the minister for refugees and returnees.

The group also met with the Governor of Kandahar as well as the Shura (leadership council) which is responsible for making many key decisions in the country.

“It was always very clear to me that I go there as an opportunity to air the voices of Afghan women. We heard from young women who said: ‘We don’t need your voice, what we need is for you to amplify ours,’” Mohammed told Al Jazeera in an interview.

“I was very focused on getting those messages across.”

‘Important to have a conversation’

Mohammed, the UN’s highest-ranking official, described current laws on women’s education and workplace as an “aberration” from the teachings of Islam, but stressed the need to engage with the Taliban.

“It’s very important to go in there and try to have a conversation with them, and they did,” he added.

“What we saw was an understanding… of how important it was for girls’ rights and women’s rights in education. They all didn’t… didn’t reject that. But what they said was…it is a work in progress and they will come back to us with the new framework around which they would protect women who would access education and also the workplace,” Mohammed, who is the first said. the Muslim deputy secretary general of the UN.

Last week, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres denounced “unprecedented systemic attacks on the rights of women and girls”, which he said “are creating a gender-based apartheid”.

Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for the Taliban’s Foreign Ministry, said some NGOs were trying to create what he called “social change” in Afghanistan.

But he says the Taliban are allowing organizations to operate if they align with the country’s values.

Those NGOs that were committed to the “cardinal principle of the work of NGOs [such as] impartiality and neutrality” received exemptions in some areas, including health, Balkhi told Al Jazeera on Saturday.

Mohammed, a former Nigerian government environment minister, approached the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) before visiting Kabul, which raised concerns about restrictions on women.

The OIC, the grouping of Muslim nations, issued a statement saying that what is happening in Afghanistan is against the Holy Quran and Islam.

In addition, Mohammed said she was “shocked” by the Taliban’s “need and desire to be recognized.”

To date, no country in the world has recognized the Taliban-led government since they seized power 17 months ago, weeks before the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces after 20 years of war and occupation.

Western and other nations have demanded that the group lift restrictions on women’s rights and make the government more representative.

Asked if the UN itself would recognize the group, Mohammed, the UN envoy, said: “I hope there will come a day when we recognize this government, as long as it is based on the principles that they must understand and uphold as part of the international family.”

“But I’m afraid that what we’re doing is getting women and girls caught in the crossfire, and it’s very important that we don’t do that. We hear the stories of many Afghan women who are unable to feed their children because of this,” she added.

“These are painful stories of women who don’t know where the next meal will come from.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the humanitarian crises in the country were affecting 28 million people.

Dozens of Afghans have died in the severe cold snap that has hit the country.

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