Afghan women ‘most repressed in the world’: UNAMA

A women’s class in Nangarhar, Afghanistan. Sept. 2022.

Afghanistan under the Taliban is “the most repressive country in the world regarding women’s rights,” the UN said Wednesday as it called for an immediate end to “draconian restrictions”.

Marking International Women’s Day, the UN in Afghanistan has said the Taliban’s almost singular focus is on imposing rules that leave most women and girls effectively trapped in their homes.

International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8 every year, is celebrated worldwide and aims to bring attention to issues around the rights and equality for women.

For women and girls in Afghanistan however, this past year has been littered with edicts rolling back hard earned gains and leaving many desperate and hopeless.

On Wednesday, Roza Otunbayeva, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said: “Afghanistan under the Taliban remains the most repressive country in the world regarding women’s rights, and it has been distressing to witness their methodical, deliberate, and systematic efforts to push Afghan women and girls out of the public sphere.”

“Confining half of the country’s population to their homes in one of the world’s largest humanitarian and economic crises is a colossal act of national self-harm. It will condemn not only women and girls, but all Afghans, to poverty and aid-dependency for generations to come. It will further isolate Afghanistan from its own citizens and from the rest of the world,” Otunbayeva said.

According to UNAMA, it has recorded an almost constant stream of discriminatory edicts and measures against women by the Taliban since August 2021.

In September 2021, the Taliban suspended girls’ secondary education and, despite public pronouncements to the contrary, extended the suspension indefinitely when classes resumed in March 2022. “Although the de facto authorities have said that they are in the process of aligning the school curriculum with Islamic values and cultural norms, no progress has been visible,” UNAMA stated.

In December 2022, the Taliban’s ministry of higher education suspended university education for women.

In line with this, UNAMA said the denial of access to education has innumerable actual and potential physical and psychosocial repercussions, including “suicides; child marriage; early childbearing; poverty-related losses such as in regard to health, nutrition, well-being and wealth due to lower earnings; diminished agency, decision-making and related social capital; and increased risk of domestic violence and sexual exploitation and abuse.”

UNAMA pointed out that women’s right to travel or work outside the confines of their home and to access public spaces is largely restricted. Women have also been excluded from all levels of public decision-making.

“Afghan women have shown incredible courage and resilience in the face of their ongoing and systematic erasure,” said Alison Davidian, Special Representative for UN Women in Afghanistan.

“The implications of the harm the Taliban are inflicting on their own citizens goes beyond women and girls. It impacts all Afghans and will resonate throughout generations. The rights of women and girls must be restored immediately in order to build an inclusive, peaceful and hopeful Afghanistan,” she said.

In addition, UNAMA highlighted the abuses women have faced during peaceful protest action – abuses that have included beatings and detention.

This year, 11.6 million Afghan women and girls are in need of humanitarian assistance, said UNAMA, adding however that despite this, the Taliban “have undermined the unprecedented international aid effort by also banning women working in non-governmental organizations, even though they are crucial to the delivery of life-saving help.”