The United Nation Security Council (UNSC) closed-door meeting on Afghanistan – tomorrow – must focus on how to reverse the stifling ban by the Taliban on women and girls from accessing work, education, sports and public spaces said Amnesty International today.
On 24 December 2022, the Taliban, Afghanistan’s de facto authorities, ordered all local and foreign NGOs not to employ female employees. On 20 December, they ordered all universities to not accept women students until further notice. In November 2022, women were denied the right to enter parks and gyms in the country. Since the Taliban takeover in mid-2022, women have been prevented from participating in sports, while secondary schools for girls have been shuttered nationwide.
“It is imperative that the UN Security Council halts the steep decline in women and girls’ rights in the country. The world watches as the Taliban systematically decimate women’s rights through numerous discriminatory restrictions rolled out by them in quick succession over the last few months,” said Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for South Asia.
It is imperative that the UN Security Council halts the steep decline in women and girls’ rights in Afghanistan.Yamini Mishra, Regional Director for South Asia, Amnesty International
“The UNSC must call not only for the Taliban to urgently lift their restrictions on women and girls, but also for an end to their crackdown on anyone who dares to protest against these constraints in Afghanistan.”
A worsening humanitarian crisis
With poverty rates skyrocketing, the Taliban’s decision to ban women from working with NGOs is pushing the country further into a humanitarian crisis. The restriction has already contributed to rising levels of acute food insecurity and malnutrition, while women’s access to basic rights, including health and education, remains diminished.
Mahmud*, who works for an international NGO focusing on education and child protection in Afghanistan, told Amnesty International: “It is almost impossible to access women in the community (with the new Taliban`s decision). Women were identifying women beneficiaries. They were screening women beneficiaries. Women were helping in delivering assistance to women.” Women were essential links in reaching out to women in the community not only due to the gender segregation rules issued by the Taliban, but also due to pre-existing cultural sensitivities, as these tasks were previously carried out by women workers for women beneficiaries.
Afghan women and girls are increasingly being erased from public life and they will also pay the highest price in the coming months as the humanitarian disaster worsens, as male workers will not be able to offer critical services to women anymore.
The NGO-led aid sector, which is the main source of humanitarian assistance in the country, is teetering on the brink of collapse with at least three major international NGOs -CARE, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children – having suspended their operations in the country because they were unable to run their programmes without female staff. On 28 December, the United Nations also halted some programmes in the country and said many other activities may need to be paused due to the Taliban’s ban on women aid workers.
Currently, humanitarian assistance to the country, including the over $1 billion fund established by World Bank from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund as emergency support budget, is channelled through UN agencies and implementing partners.
Women were already on the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of access to critical aid services, but it seems they are being completely erased.Yamini Mishra
“It is as if the Taliban are intentionally driving the country into famine. Their discriminatory policies are bringing shocking levels of food insecurity and making the delivery of international assistance almost impossible. Women were already on the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of access to critical aid services, but it seems they are being completely erased,” said Yamini Mishra.
Access to education critically undermined
With Afghan women and girls already denied access to secondary and tertiary education, the ban on women working with NGOs will also prevent students from accessing education through community-based education systems. Such programmes were the only way about 3.7 million out-of-school children, about 60 percent of whom are girls, could still access schooling in pre-Taliban era. The teachers working in this system are primarily women and would be classified by the Taliban as NGO workers.
Ahmad*, who works for an organization that provides community-based education, said: “With these restrictions, women and girls will not work as teachers, nor attend free courses as students that they previously accessed in some of the cities. These bridge courses provided education on different school subjects, including English.”
Another NGO worker, Zareen*, told Amnesty International the changes will greatly undermine programmes on health and hygiene: “We provide awareness on child diarrhoea and prevention. We provide awareness on how to maintain personal hygiene (for women). We discuss family management. We provide awareness on nutrition for pregnant women and children of particular.” The restrictions impact public awareness programmes, which are carried out by women workers at NGOs and are vital for awareness on personal hygiene, family nutrition, and health.
Denial of Livelihood
When the Taliban assumed power in Afghanistan, women working for the government, including those with roles in civil service, policy-making bodies and the judiciary, were removed from their positions en masse.
Due to the Taliban’s restrictions now on women working for NGOs as well Zareen* must now stay at home. She told Amnesty International: “I am afraid of losing my income as the sole family breadwinner. The loss of my salary will have a huge impact on the lives of my children. And I now have mental health problems and feel sick.”
Massoma*, who previously worked with an organization working on education and healthcare in several provinces of Afghanistan, was told her contract would not be extended soon after the Taliban’s restrictions came into effect. She said, “My contract expired after the Taliban announced their decision. At the beginning of January, I was informed that the contract would not be extended.” She is no longer receiving her salary.
“These discriminatory constraints on NGOs will only add to the already sizeable economic challenges faced by women in Afghanistan. It is outrageous that even women NGO workers are now being deprived of their right to work, which will then have a cascading impact on aid not reaching women in the communities. This is nothing short of misogyny,” said Yamini Mishra.
It is outrageous that even women NGO workers are now being deprived of their right to work, which will then have a cascading impact on aid not reaching women in the communities.Yamini Mishra
The Taliban’s repressive new rules have also barred women from accessing community livelihood programmes run by NGOs.
Ajmal*, who works for an organization that focuses in part on income generation programmes for women beneficiaries, told Amnesty: “At least 50% of small business owners who benefit from these income generation projects are women. The beneficiaries are also identified and monitored by women NGO workers.”
Since they took control of the country in August 2021, the Taliban have violated women’s and girls’ rights to education, work and free movement; decimated the system of protection and support for those fleeing domestic violence; detained women and girls for minor violations of discriminatory rules; and contributed to a surge in the rates of child, early and forced marriage in Afghanistan.
The Amnesty International report, Death in Slow Motion: Women and Girls Under Taliban Rule, also reveals how women who peacefully protested against these oppressive rules have been threatened, arrested, detained, tortured, and forcibly disappeared.
Amnesty International calls on the Taliban de facto authorities to immediately allow women and girls to return to secondary and tertiary education and to allow women to work and access public spaces independently. The international community must also call on the Taliban to reverse their restrictive policies, allow women to resume employment in NGOs, and ensure women’s full civic rights across the country.
The Taliban’s cruel restrictions on women’s and girls’ rights is a collective punishment for the entire population, women in particular.Yamini Mishra
“The Taliban’s cruel restrictions on women’s and girls’ rights is a collective punishment for the entire population, women in particular. The UN Security Council should adopt a resolution that includes a set of concrete steps on how to end the systemic decimation of women’s and girls’ rights in Afghanistan. This will be a step towards halting the humanitarian disaster the country seems to be spiralling into,” said Yamini Mishra.
The UN Security Council should adopt a resolution that includes a set of concrete steps on how to end the systemic decimation of women’s and girls’ rights in Afghanistan.Yamini Mishra
*All names of participants have been anonymised to protect their identity