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Taliban edicts suffocating women and girls in Afghanistan: UN experts

19 June 2023

GENEVA (19 June 2023) – Relentless edicts issued by the Taliban since taking power in Afghanistan in August 2021 have severely restricted the rights of women and girls and suffocated every dimension of their lives, UN experts* said today.

“Women and girls in Afghanistan are experiencing severe discrimination that may amount to gender persecution – a crime against humanity – and be characterised as gender apartheid, as the de facto authorities appear to be governing by systemic discrimination with the intention to subject women and girls to total domination,” the experts said.

In a joint report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls presented to the UN Human Rights Council today, the experts, Richard Bennett and Dorothy Estrada-Tanck, said the plight of women and girls in the country was the worst globally. The report calls on the de facto authorities to respect and restore women’s and girls’ human rights and urges the increased attention of the international community and the UN to the widespread discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan.

The UN experts travelled to Afghanistan from 27 April to 4 May and visited Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. They met with Afghan women and men in a variety of sectors, representatives of UN agencies, international NGOs and de facto officials at the central and provincial level.

In Afghanistan today, girls and women are denied education beyond primary level, banned from working outside the home in most sectors, prohibited from accessing public baths, parks, and gyms, and moving freely around the country. The imposed extreme modesty rules of “proper hijab”, meaning a non-fitted black garment with face covering, or not leaving the home without reason, and mandatory maharam (male guardian) policy adds to a controlling environment in which it is difficult for women and girls to move freely outside their homes, the report by the experts said.

The UN experts expressed grave concern about the absence of legal protections for women and girls, and the normalisation of discrimination and violence against them.

“Women and girls have no recourse to justice, and very limited access to female lawyers, who have not been issued licenses unlike their male colleagues,” they said.  

The joint report by the experts revealed that women and girl victims of gender-based violence are being sentenced to atrocious physical and psychological suffering, with limited access to any protection resources, such as shelters. The experts received reports that women who report violence to the police are told that they “should not complain”, that they “probably deserved being beaten” and that “such matters are private and should remain within the family.”

This oppressive environment, aggravated by acute poverty, is limiting women’s and girls’ access to healthcare from an already strained health system and placing extreme pressures on families, the report said. “Within this context, domestic violence, forced and child marriage, sale of children and body organs, child labour, trafficking and unsafe migration have all increased. Urgent intervention is necessary to reverse this trajectory,” the experts said.

The report highlighted that girls and women were prohibited from attending school above grade six and can only be provided care by female doctors. “Unless the restrictions are reversed rapidly, the stage may be set for multiple preventable deaths that could amount to an evolving femicide,” it said.

In a survey of 2112 women that informed the report, nearly 50% of the respondents personally knew at least one woman or girl who has suffered anxiety or depression since August 2021. “Declining mental health is a serious concern for every woman we spoke to,” the UN experts said.

“This extreme gender-based discrimination against women and girls, perpetrated with total impunity, is unparalleled globally,” the experts said. “Never has it been more urgent to address the severe deprivation of fundamental rights of women and girls in the country and bring an end to it,” the experts said.


*The experts: Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Ivana Radačić (Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Meskerem Geset Techane and Melissa Upreti, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls;

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts.

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