UN envoy says progress on Afghan womens rights – Al

UN envoy says ‘progress’ on Afghan women’s rights – Al Jazeera English

A UN delegation holding talks with senior Taliban officials in Afghanistan has made progress on women’s rights, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told Al Jazeera on Saturday, warning that there is still work to be done.

The high-level meeting earlier this week comes amid widespread criticism of the ruling Taliban for banning women from universities and NGOs over the past month. Millions of high school girls have already been confined at home as schools remain closed. The Taliban have backed down on promises of women’s rights and media freedom since they stormed to power in August 2021 following the collapse of the Western-backed government.

“There has been some progress. Some exceptions were made to the decrees covering the health sector,” said Mohammed, who led the delegation, referring to three NGOs resuming work last week.

“I think that’s because the international community, and especially the partners who are funding this, have been able to show the implications and impact of woman-to-woman services, especially childbirth,” she added.

AfghanistanAfghan women chant slogans during a protest against the ban on women’s higher education in Kabul, Afghanistan [File: AP Photo]

Not enough, she said, adding that this is just the beginning. “We opened a rift and hope that through the reversals we can eventually get to a stage where you neutralize these edicts and women go back to school and girls and of course the workplace.”

The 61-year-old UN diplomat said her delegation met with cabinet members including the foreign minister, the deputy prime minister and the minister for refugees and returnees.

The group also met the governor of Kandahar as well as the shura (governing council) who are responsible for many important decisions in the country.

“It was always clear to me that I go there to hear the voices of Afghan women. We’ve heard from young women saying, ‘We don’t need your voice, what we need is for you to amplify ours,'” Mohammed said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

“I’ve been very focused on getting those messages across.”

“Important to start a conversation”

Mohammed, the senior female United Nations official, described the current laws on women’s education and employment as “deviating” from the teachings of Islam, but stressed the need to confront the Taliban.

“It’s very important to go in there and try to have a conversation with them and they did it,” she added.

“What we saw was an understanding… of how important it was for girls’ and women’s rights in education. They all didn’t… didn’t push that back. But what they said was that … it’s still a work in progress and they will come back to us with the new framework around which they would protect women who would have access to education and also to work,” Mohammed, who is the first Muslim UN Deputy Secretary-General, said.

Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the “unprecedented, systemic attacks on the rights of women and girls” which he says are “creating gender apartheid”.

Abdul Qahar Balkhi, spokesman for the Taliban foreign ministry, said some NGOs were trying to bring about what he called “social change” in Afghanistan.

But he says the Taliban allow organizations to operate if they align with the country’s values.

Those NGOs that have committed themselves to the “cardinal principle of NGO work”. [such as] Impartiality and neutrality” exceptions have been granted in some areas, including health, Balkhi told Al Jazeera on Saturday.

Mohammed, a former Nigerian government environment minister, reached out to the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) ahead of her visit to Kabul, which expressed concerns about restrictions on women.

The OIC, the grouping of Muslim nations, issued a statement saying what is happening in Afghanistan is against the Holy Quran and Islam.

In addition, Mohammed said she was “surprised” by the Taliban’s “need and desire to be recognized”.

To date, no country in the world has recognized the Taliban-led government since it stormed into power 17 months ago, weeks before the departure of US-led foreign forces after 20 years of war and occupation.

Western nations and others have called on the group to lift restrictions on women’s rights and make government more representative.

Asked if the UN itself would recognize the group, Mohammed, the UN envoy, said: “I hope that there will come a day when we will recognize this government, provided it is based on the principles that it is part of.” must understand and abide by the government international family.”

“But I’m concerned that we’re putting women and girls in the crossfire, and it’s really important that we don’t do that. We have heard the stories of many Afghan women who are unable to feed their children because of this,” she added.

“They are painful stories of women not knowing where their next meal will come from.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 28 million people have been affected by the humanitarian crises in the country.

Dozens of Afghans have died in the severe cold snap that swept across the country.