Women’s lives under Taliban rule deteriorating: Belgian FM Lahbib

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said Brussels was “alarmed” by the Taliban’s attempt to progressively erase women and girls from public life.

Addressing a civil society workshop on Tuesday, Lahbib raised concerns over the deteriorating situation of Afghan women and girls, following imposed restrictions by the Taliban since August last year.

“The suspension of girls’ secondary education, barriers to employment, the total lack of opportunities to participate in political and public life, and the limits to their freedom of movement, association, and expression have devastating effects on the daily lives of women and girls,” Lahbib said.

She added that journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society operate in a very restrictive environment in the country.

Denouncing public executions and flogging in Afghanistan, the Belgian minister stated that the rule of law doesn’t exist anymore, and “neither is the judicial system.”

Lahbib added that it was not possible to resume relations between Belgium and the Taliban regime, emphasizing Belgium’s relation with the Taliban is conditions-based on the Taliban’s “actions and positive measures, not by their words.”

“This way, we continue to exert political pressure on the Taliban,” she added

“Let’s be honest, the situation we face is very frustrating. For the time being, however, given the evolution of the ground, it is impossible to resume relations with the regime,” she stated.

“I have said in the past that I intend to use all the foreign policy tools at my disposal to change the situation in Afghanistan and we will continue to do so,” Lahbib noted.

The Belgian minister noted that the EU and its member states’ operational engagement with the Taliban is carefully “calibrated to their policy and actions.”

She stressed that EU engagement with the Taliban will not bestow any legitimacy to the group.

Lahbib stated that legitimacy will be assessed against five key benchmarks including: Free passage for national foreigners and for eligible Afghans, unhindered humanitarian access, establishment of an inclusive and representative government, respect for human rights (in particular women’s and girls’ rights), and ceasing of all ties with terrorist groups.

The minister also raised concerns about the deterioration of the economic situation and the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan.

“Besides our contribution through EU funds, Belgium is also a major contributor to the core funding of many UN agencies and organizations. Given the exceptional nature of the situation, Belgium contributed an additional 3 million EUR to the “Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund” in March 2022,” she said.

“Through dedicated financial support to UN Women, Belgium is also contributing to the resilience of Afghan women,” she said.

Lahbib noted that she decided to directly support civil society organizations.