Afghan women suffer extreme discrimination, restrictions and violence - Deputy High Commissioner
19 June 2023
Nada Al-Nashif, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
53rd session of the Human Rights Council
Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan
Colleagues and friends,
Let me start by bidding a special welcome to the Afghan women and girls participating in today’s dialogue and to those joining us online from Afghanistan and around the world. To have your voices at the centre of our discussion is critical.
This dialogue will focus on women and girls inside Afghanistan, in particular the impact of Taliban policies on their enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and rights. These include, among others, the rights to education, work, freedom of movement, freedom of opinion and expression and healthcare. Women also face challenges in accessing remedies, including access to services for survivors of gender-based violence; and access to justice, which is particularly impeded by the absence of female personnel in the justice system.
Our Office has sought to bring a diversity of voices of Afghan women, inside and outside Afghanistan, to this Council to ensure that you hear directly from them - their own views, their hopes and aspirations, and their concerns about the issues affecting their lives.
Globally, we have seen a backlash against women’s and girl’s rights in recent years. However, nowhere has this been more profound and all-encompassing than in Afghanistan since the Taliban took power in mid-August 2021. Despite repeatedly asserting that women’s rights will be protected within the framework of Shari’a, over the past 22 months, every aspect of women’s and girls’ lives has been restricted. They are discriminated against in every way. Edict after edict has been issued, the cumulative effect of which has been to erase women and girls from public life and prevent them from accessing and enjoying their fundamental rights and freedoms.
Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls are denied education beyond primary level. Education, in classroom learning and school communities, is not just vital for girls, but for society as a whole. We have repeatedly made the point that education is a right that enables all others. Without educated girls, there will be no women doctors, no women teachers, no women lawyers. The Taliban have eliminated girls’ development opportunities and therefore, their ability to live independently, now and in the future has been debilitated, affecting generations to come.
Afghanistan is also the only country in the world that bans women from working for international organisations, including the United Nations, as well as outside the home, in many sectors. This significantly impacts the ability of the United Nations and other organisations to provide critical services to the population that is experiencing chronic poverty. The removal of women from public office further impacts the ability of women and girls to be seen and heard, and to participate in decision making processes that directly impact their lives.
The excessive and unjustifiable limitations on movement – including the requirement of a maharam or male chaperone – together with the restrictions on education and employment, leave women and girls with limited, and at times, no ability to do things outside of their homes, including access healthcare or engaging with the local economy as productive elements, which is critical to social, economic and cultural cohesion.
Our Office welcomes the joint report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation against women and girls and the Working group on discrimination against women and girls. It outlines the systemic nature of the discrimination women and girls are facing today in Afghanistan.
We are deeply concerned by the overall discriminatory and restrictive environment, indeed the climate of fear, in which women and girls live in Afghanistan. This is combined with a lack of accountability for violations of women’s and girls’ rights, and the absence of a justice system that is gender-responsive and accessible to women.
We cannot allow such extreme discrimination and violence against women and girls be accepted, let alone normalised, anywhere.
As we rededicate our efforts to concrete action, I hope that today’s dialogue will demonstrate to the very courageous women activists present today that the international community stands with them and is committed to find ways to influence the de facto authorities to roll back these deeply regressive policies, and to uphold the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by all women, men, girls and boys in Afghanistan.