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UN Rights Chief fears growing ‘brutal, systemic repression’ of Afghan women and girls

UN Photo/Violaine Martin

By Anjali Sharma

UNITED NATIONS -- UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet expressed her deep over the growing brutal, and systemic repression’ of Afghan women and girls, since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, as she was addressing a side event of the General Assembly.

Although, the Taliban regime had made some commitments to uphold human rights but their subsequent actions have “sadly contradicted” to those promises, she told the gathering.

Michelle Bachelet informed a high-level event on safeguarding 20 years of international engagement in Afghanistan, that women have been “progressively excluded from the public sphere”, prohibited from appearing without a male guardian and face increasing restrictions on their right to work.

She said that “The Ministry that once promoted women's rights has been disbanded, and its premises taken over by a Ministry for the propagation of Virtue and the prevention of Vice – an all-male office that will apply guidelines on appropriate dress and behavior.”

She said moreover, Taliban representatives have dismantled many other former government offices for women’s affairs, gaining access to sensitive files, threatening staff, and accusing women's civil society groups of spreading “anti-Islamic” ideas.

She noted that “There is real and palpable fear among Afghan women of a return to the Taliban's brutal and systemic repression of women and girls during the 1990s.”

UN also concerned about a growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is putting one million children in danger of extreme hunger, with families headed by women – most of whom can no longer work – among those at greatest risk.

Ms. Bachelet stressed that over the last 20 years, Afghan women have worked towards ensuring greater respect for and protection of their rights to education, work, political participation and freedom of movement and expression.

She underscored that “These rights are part of the evolution of Afghan society and are integral to the development and economic growth of Afghanistan.”

Ms. Bachelet reminded that the country would benefit by utilizing their talents and capabilities as women and girls comprise half of Afghanistan’s population.

She said that “first and foremost”, women and girls must have full and equal access to essential services, including healthcare and education; be able to work in every sector of the economy; be free to move without restrictions; and live free of all gender-related violence.

“In short, Afghan women and girls’ human rights must be upheld and defended.

Ms. Bachelet stressed that the international community, including the UN and all its Member States, must commit to “strong advocacy that demands compliance with these basic requirements for any fair and just society,” when engaging with the Taliban.

She said thatRespect for the rights of the women and girls of Afghanistan now will be a harbinger of the country's future.” “They face extraordinary challenges – and we will remain at their side”.

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UNICEF outlined some of the country’s advances, from tripling the number of schools since 2002 to increasing youth literacy from 47 to 65 per cent over the past decade.

“Over the past 20 years, school enrolment has increased ten-fold, reaching almost 10 million children today. Four million of those children are girls”, she said.

She called them “significant improvements.”

The agency said that girls over the age of 12 have been prohibited from attending school with the genders separated at the university level and female students prohibited from being taught by male professors, who make up the majority of instructors.

Ms. Fore showed her deep concern that many girls may not be allowed back to school, called it “critically important” that Afghan children have “an equal chance to learn and develop the skills they need to thrive”.

“Girls cannot, and must not, be left behind. It is critical that…[they] are able to resume their education without any further delays”, she reiterated.

Ms. Fore stressed the need for female educators to resume teaching and be “actively” protected, for this to happen,

She noted that the international community must also increase investment in education.

“At a bare minimum, every child needs foundational literacy and numeracy skills,” she said.

She added that “girls and boys need qualified female and male teachers, who regularly receive their salaries and are supported to teach”.

Despite improvements, the plight of Afghanistan’s children was clear even before the Taliban took control of the country.

Ms. Fore highlighted that of the 4.2 million children not enrolled in school, 2.6 million are girls. And for those who are, COVID-19 has thwarted ten months of education and threatens the most vulnerable from ever returning to the classroom.

According to UNICEF, “access to quality education” is not only a right for every child but is also an investment to expand opportunities for each child, their families, and their communities.

There has never been a more urgent time to stand with the children of Afghanistan – boys but especially girls – and with the people who inspire and guide them Ms. Fore concluded.

She urged everyone to “protect and support these children”.

Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, today released $45 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund for life-saving support to help prevent Afghanistan’s health-care system from collapsing.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that medicines, medical supplies and fuel are running out in Afghanistan. Cold chains are compromised and essential health-care workers are not being paid.

The funding will go to the WHO and the UNICEF working through national and international NGOs – to keep health-care facilities operating until the end of the year.

On 13 September donors pledged more than $1.2 billion for humanitarian and development aid to Afghanistan. To date, more than $121 million, 20 per cent of the $606 million required through the end of the year, has been received.

UN urged donors to disburse pledges so we can keep getting life-saving assistance, including food, medicines, healthcare and protection to people in need.

Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and the WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, issued a statement after they met with senior members of the Taliban leadership in Kabul, UN partners, health care workers and patients, and WHO staff.

Mr. Ghebreyesus and Dr. Al-Mandhari warned that Afghanistan’s health system is on the brink of collapse. They said that unless urgent action is taken, the country faces an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.

WHO emphasized the need for women to maintain access to education, health care and to the health workforce.

Mr. Ghebreyesus and Dr. Al-Mandhari warned that with fewer health facilities operational and less female health workers reporting to work, female patients are hesitant to seek care.

WFP said that only five per cent of households in Afghanistan have enough to eat every day.

According to recent surveys conducted by WFP, half of households reported they had run out of food altogether at least once in the past two weeks.

WFP said that the middle classes are also struggling and only 10 percent of households headed by someone with a secondary or university education able to buy sufficient food for their families every day.

Though the situation is worse for those less well-educated, the unprecedented prevalence of hunger among families that had previously been spared the scourge of hunger signals the depth of the crisis facing Afghans.

According to WFP, on average, breadwinners are finding work just one day a week, barely enough to afford food that is rapidly increasing in price. Cooking oil, for example, has almost doubled in price since 2020, and wheat is up by 28 per cent.

WFP has provided 6.4 million people with food assistance this year, including more than 1.4 million people since the Taliban takeover on 15 August.

WFP runs programmes designed to both address the immediate needs of people facing emergencies, while also building community resilience so they are better able to cope in times of crisis.



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