The United Nations Security Council will meet behind closed doors on Afghanistan on 13 January 2023. Amnesty International is calling on members to focus on undoing the Taliban’s stifling ban on women and girls’ access to work, education, sport and public spaces.
On December 24, 2022, the Taliban, the de facto authorities in Afghanistan, ruled that all domestic and foreign civil society organizations would no longer be allowed to hire female workers. On December 20, they ruled that all universities will no longer be allowed to accept female students until further notice. And in November 2022, women were denied the right to enter parks and gyms. Since the Taliban seized power in mid-2022, women are no longer allowed to play sports, and secondary schools for girls have closed across the country.
The UN Security Council must get involved
It is imperative that the UN Security Council stop the severe restriction of the rights of women and girls in the country. “The world is watching as the Taliban systematically suppress their rights through the many discriminatory restrictions they have imposed in quick succession in recent months,” said Yamini Mishra of Amnesty International. She added, “The UN Security Council should not only call on the Taliban to urgently lift the restrictions they impose on women and girls, but also to end their crackdown on anyone in Afghanistan who dares protest these restrictions.”
A growing humanitarian crisis
With poverty rates skyrocketing, the Taliban’s decision to ban women from working with NGOs has plunged the country into a humanitarian crisis. The restrictions have already contributed to increasing acute food insecurity and malnutrition, while women’s access to basic rights, including health and education, remains limited.
“It is almost impossible now to reach women in the community,” said Mahmoud*, who works for an international civil society organization focusing on education and child protection in Afghanistan. “The women helped provide assistance to women.
Women were essential liaisons in accessing women, not only because of Taliban rules separating women from men, but also because of pre-existing cultural sensitivities, as these tasks had previously been performed by female employees. Afghan women and girls are increasingly excluded from public life. They will be increasingly affected as the humanitarian catastrophe worsens, as male workers can no longer provide important services to women, such as medical or legal assistance for victims of domestic violence.
Humanitarian aid is collapsing
The NGO-led aid sector, the country’s main source of humanitarian aid, is on the verge of collapse as at least three major international NGOs – CARE, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children – have had to cease operations in the country in order not to continue with their programmes. Can operate without female employees. On December 28, 2022, the United Nations also halted some aid programs and stated that many other activities may have to be suspended due to the Taliban’s ban on women aid workers.
Currently, humanitarian assistance to the country is channeled through UN agencies and implementing partners. This includes more than $1 billion for the emergency relief fund established by the World Bank from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund.
It is as if the Taliban are deliberately pushing the country into famine. Their discriminatory policies create serious food insecurity and make international assistance almost impossible. Women were already at the bottom of the ladder in terms of accessing the main emergency services, but now it seems they don’t count at all,” says Yamini Mishra.
Access to education is seriously undermined
Since Afghan women and girls have already been denied secondary and higher education, the ban on women working with NGOs will also prevent students from accessing education through community education systems. Such programs were the only way some 3.7 million out-of-school children, about 60 percent of whom were girls, had access to education before the Taliban takeover. Most of the teachers working in this system are women and the Taliban would classify them as NGO workers.
“With these restrictions, women and girls will not be able to work as teachers, nor will they be able to take free courses like they did in some cities before,” said Ahmed*, who works in a community education institution. These courses were taught about various subjects, including the English language.
Another NGO worker, Zareen*, told Amnesty International that the changes would seriously undermine health and hygiene programmes: “We provide education on and prevention of childhood diarrhea. We provide information about maintaining personal hygiene (for women). We discuss management The family We provide information about nutrition for pregnant women and children The restrictions affect awareness programmes, run by female NGO workers, which are vital to raising awareness of personal hygiene, nutrition and health.
Unable to provide for a living
When the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, women who worked in government—including those in the civil service, policy-making bodies, and the judiciary—were dismissed en masse.
Because of the restrictions the Taliban are now placing on women who also work for NGOs, Zareen* has to stay home. “I am afraid of losing my income as the sole breadwinner,” she said. Losing my salary will have a huge impact on my children’s lives. And now I have psychological problems and I feel sick.
Masuma*, who previously worked for an organization dealing with education and healthcare in several provinces in Afghanistan, has been told her contract will not be renewed after the Taliban restrictions went into effect. She said: My contract ended after the Taliban announced their decision. At the beginning of January 2023 I was told that the contract would not be renewed. You no longer get a salary.
“These discriminatory restrictions on NGOs will only add to the already significant economic challenges women face in Afghanistan. It is shameful that even female NGO workers are now being denied their right to work, which will have dire consequences for the aid that no longer arrives.” To women: “This is nothing short of misogynistic,” says Yamini Mishra.
Repressive new Taliban rules also deny women access to community-based NGO programmes. “At least 50 percent of the small business owners who benefit from these projects are women,” Ajmal*, who works for an organization focused in part on income-generating programs for women, told Amnesty International.
Since taking control of the country in August 2021, the Taliban have violated the rights of women and girls to education, work, and freedom of movement. The protection and support system has been reduced to a minimum for those fleeing domestic violence. Women and girls are imprisoned for minor violations of discriminatory rules. All this has contributed to an increase in the incidence of child, early and forced marriage.
As Amnesty International’s report, Slow Death: Women and Girls Under Taliban Rule, reveals how women who protested peacefully against these oppressive rules were threatened, arrested, detained, tortured and forcibly disappeared.
Amnesty International is calling on the Taliban authorities to immediately reinstate women and girls in secondary and higher education and to allow women to work independently and access public spaces. The international community should also call on the Taliban to reverse its oppressive policies, allow women to resume their work in NGOs, and ensure full civil rights for women across the country.
“The brutal curtailment of the rights of women and girls by the Taliban is a collective punishment of the entire population, and women in particular. The UN Security Council must pass a resolution outlining a series of concrete steps to end the systematic curtailment of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. These will be A step towards stopping the humanitarian catastrophe in which the country appears to be living.”
*All participants’ names have been anonymized to protect their identities.