UN holds emergency meeting as Taliban crackdown on women continues

The United Nations Security Council held emergency closed consultations on Thursday on the Taliban’s latest crackdown on Afghan women, as it considered a presidential statement expressing deep concern about Afghanistan’s rulers’ new ban on women leaving the house “without necessity” and wearing head-to-toe clothing when they do go out in public.

The Norwegian-drafted declaration would also call for an end to policies that limit women’s and girls’ rights.

Taliban hardliners, who took control in August, have reverted Afghanistan to their harsh rule from 1996 to December 2001, when they were forced from power by US forces in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, with girls and women remaining the major targets.

Women are now excluded from most employment and from boarding flights if they travel without a male relative, and men and women can only attend public parks on different days, in addition to Saturday’s new edict on leaving home and attire.

Trine Heimerback, Norway’s deputy United Nations ambassador, told reporters ahead of the council meeting that the Taliban’s policies prioritize oppressing women and girls over addressing the country’s “catastrophic economic and humanitarian situation,” which she warned could lead to “violence and radicalization.”

The co-chairs of the Security Council Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace, and Security, Ireland and Mexico, addressed a message to council members on Thursday condemning the Taliban’s recent decision.

It demonstrates that Afghanistan’s present authorities have “no intention of promoting, respecting, or protecting the rights of women and girls, or of following the numerous pledges that they have made to Afghan women and the international community in recent months,” according to the report.

The decision also “shows an absolute disdain for the council’s unambiguous message that women must have a full, equal, and meaningful role in all spheres of public and political life in Afghanistan,” according to the co-chairs.

Women and girls “are now facing some of the harshest restrictions imaginable,” said Ireland’s UN Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, adding that the international community and the Security Council have “a moral responsibility to act” and condemn Taliban policies that seek to exclude half of Afghanistan’s population.

Barbara Woodward, the British ambassador to the United Nations, remarked that in the previous 20 years, women have had more chances for education, job, self-determination, and participation in “a healthy cultural milieu.” She said that before the Taliban took control, 3.6 million girls were in school, women held a quarter of parliament seats, and women made up 20% of the workforce.

“And now the Taliban wants to take away all of that,” Woodward added, emphasizing that women should not be forced to accept “a life on the sidelines.”

Ambassadors reviewed actions of the United Nations political mission in Afghanistan, “but mainly focused on the situation for women and girls,” she told reporters following Thursday’s closed-door council meeting.

“I very much hope that very soon we’ll be able to agree a product that demonstrates our collective agreement and worry about these current events,” Woodward said when asked about the Security Council’s chances of agreeing on the presidential statement.

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