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UN Security Council to vote on women’s rights in Afghanistan

The UN Security Council will vote on Thursday on a resolution condemning the Taliban’s restrictions on women, covering everything from banning girls’ attendance at school to stopping women working for aid agencies, including the UN.

In April, the movement that ousted the western-backed Kabul government in August 2021, banned women from working for UN aid agencies. The decision expanded an existing ban of women working for NGOs, passed in December.

The UN subsequently said its operations were becoming harder and that it was unable to function effectively to deliver aid and development support for Afghans. UNDP head Achim Steiner said last month that “the entire United Nations system [was] having to take a step back and re-evaluate its ability to operate there”.

The ban on female UN staff follows widespread international anger at the Taliban’s refusal to allow girls an education beyond the sixth grade.

The draft resolution, obtained late on Wednesday by The Associated Press, expresses “deep concern at the increasing erosion of respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls in Afghanistan by the Taliban” and reaffirms their “indispensable role” in Afghan society.

It calls on the Taliban to swiftly restore their access to education, employment, freedom of movement and equal participation in public life.

The resolution, drafted by the UAE and Japan, is scheduled to be voted on by the 15-member council on Thursday afternoon. Diplomats said it is almost certain to be approved, although Russia and China might abstain.

The Taliban seized power in August 2021 as US and Nato forces were pulling out of Afghanistan after two decades of war. The militant group initially promised a more moderate rule than during their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001. But there has been growing international consternation as Taliban leaders have gradually re-imposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, on women and girls.

In addition to school and aid agency restrictions, women are banned from most jobs, public spaces and gyms.

Since April 5, the 3,300 Afghans employed by the UN — 2,700 men and 600 women — have stayed home, but UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric has said they continue to work and will be paid. The UN’s 600-strong international staff, including 200 women, is not affected by the Taliban ban.

Roza Otunbayeva, a former president and foreign minister of Kyrgyzstan, who heads the UN political mission in Afghanistan known as Unama, responded to the Taliban’s ban on Afghan women working for the 193-nation world body by ordering an operational review of the UN’s presence in the country, which will last until May 5.

Before the review is completed, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will host an international meeting on Afghanistan in Doha, the capital of Qatar, on May 1-2. UN spokesman Mr Dujarric said last week that the closed meeting will be attended by envoys to Afghanistan from various countries with the aim of seeking a “durable way forward” for the country.

The draft resolution being put to a vote would reaffirm the UN’s support for “a peaceful, stable, prosperous and inclusive Afghanistan” and for an “inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned determination of the country’s political future and development path”.

It would also recognise the many challenges Afghanistan faces, stress the urgent need to address “the dire economic and humanitarian situation” in the country, and reiterate that women are essential to the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The draft urges all other UN member nations to use their influence to promote “an urgent reversal” of the Taliban’s policies and practices towards women and girls.

Afghan Herald/Agencies

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