EU’s Borrell urges world not to forget Afghanistan amid ‘gender apartheid’

BRUSSELS — Joseph Borrell, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, urged the international community at a press conference not to overlook Afghanistan, highlighting the Taliban’s severe restrictions on women as “gender apartheid.”

Borrell emphasized the importance of preventing conflicts globally, mentioning Afghanistan as among those forgotten. “We must also focus on conflict prevention. Clearly, it would be much more effective to prevent conflicts… Do not forget about forgotten conflicts, do not forget about Afghanistan, where gender apartheid prevails,” he stated.

Meanwhile, at a meeting titled “Power of Inclusion: Afghan Women and Regional Prosperity,” sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Ireland, discussions focused on the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan. Participants included notable figures such as Fawzia Koofi, former member of parliament; Asila Wardak, women’s rights activist and former diplomat; Naheed Sarabi, former Afghan diplomat; and Fatima Gailani, former head of the Afghan Red Crescent.

Keith McBean, Ireland’s envoy to the UN, highlighted at the press conference the critical role of gender equality in Afghanistan for economic growth, peace, and stability. “Ireland will continue to amplify the voices of Afghan women, standing in solidarity with them as they forge paths toward greater economic development and a more peaceful Afghanistan,” McBean said.

Asila Wardak criticized the international community, including the UN Security Council, for its lack of unified stance on Afghanistan. “As an Afghan woman, I urge the Security Council to adopt a unified approach toward Afghanistan, especially as terrorism expands,” Wardak stated.

Naheed Sarabi warned of the long-term consequences of excluding women from education and participation in the economy. “Imagine 10 years from now, without women educated today to become doctors, engineers, or economists. What kind of growth and economic recovery can we expect?” Sarabi questioned.

The panel expressed diverging views on engaging with the Taliban. Fawzia Koofi called such engagement “a mistake,” criticizing the disparity between the treatment of Taliban leaders and the restrictions on Afghan women. “The international community’s engagement with the Taliban is a one-sided concession, worsening since the start of unilateral discussions with the group,” Koofi remarked.

However, Fatima Gailani argued that engagement is the only viable solution to Afghanistan’s crisis. “Engagement must seriously address women’s issues and include women in the discussions. If not through engagement, then what?” Gailani posed to journalists at the UN headquarters.

Since the Taliban’s ascent to power, Afghan girls and women have faced systemic barriers to education, employment, freedom of movement, and public presence. These restrictions have been widely condemned as “gender apartheid” by human rights advocates and organizations.