Two years ago today, the Taliban took control of Kabul and assumed power in Afghanistan. Since then, the economy has plummeted, the humanitarian situation has grown dire, and Taliban leaders have systematically stripped Afghan women and girls of their most basic human rights. If international agreements protecting human rights have any meaning, we must not accept the current situation for women and girls in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan ranks 170th out of 170 countries on the Women, Peace, and Security Index. Yet, some argue that since the Taliban took control, Afghanistan is now safer. That is a false and pernicious statement. Afghanistan is not safer or more open for Afghan women and girls––fifty percent of the population, as well as journalists, opponents of the regime, and religious and ethnic minorities. Child marriage and attendant maternal mortality have increased, the rights of women and girls have been decimated, and gender-based violence, particularly in the home, continues to skyrocket while services to protect and respond are now virtually non-existent. The courageous women who dare to protest these conditions are being beaten, arrested, tortured, and disappeared.
The Taliban have issued over 75 edicts that restrict Afghan women and girls’ ability to participate in public life. Starting immediately in August 2021, Taliban leadership ordered women to stay home from work and prohibited girls older than 6th grade from attending school. This was followed by requirements for male chaperones, the closure of female-owned businesses, a ban on women delivering humanitarian aid through NGOs and the UN, and even the prohibition of women visiting parks or historic sites.
The recent joint report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls to the UN Human Rights Council details widespread and systematic discrimination against women and girls and concludes that this may amount to the crime against humanity of gender persecution under the International Criminal Court Rome Statute. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, international experts, and the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, have denounced the Taliban’s treatment of women as “gender apartheid.”
The international community has watched as Afghanistan has become the most serious women’s rights crisis in the world. The world’s ineffective response to possible crimes against humanity committed by the Taliban against women and girlssends a strong message that women’s rights are not important. That message is contributing to the global backsliding of women’s rights.
The United States must elevate efforts to support and protect Afghan women and girls as a government-wide priority with strong leadership from the highest levels of the Administration. All U.S. government agencies working on programs and policies related to Afghanistan must:
- Continuously and meaningfully consult with a diverse set of Afghan women and girls inside and outside of Afghanistan on political, economic, and humanitarian strategies to restore Afghans their rights and opportunities;
- Ensure that Afghan women and girls’ rights are part of every U.S. policy decision;
- Utilize all available international and regional diplomatic, economic, and other cultural tools to secure Afghan women’s and girls’ rights.
The U.S. must work closely with partners and institutions like the UN Secretariat, the Security Council and UN agencies, to amplify the voices and needs of Afghan women and girls and pressure the Taliban regime to end its gender-based human rights abuses. It should cooperate with the International Criminal Court in its investigation in Afghanistan.
The circumstances for women and girls in Afghanistan are relevant to the rights, security, and well-being of women and girls everywhere. This is a critical moment to incontrovertibly assert that it is unacceptable for any member of the global community to deny basic human rights based on sex or gender. History and extensive research have shown that how a country treats women is a “key predictor of how it will behave among the community of nations.” A future in which Afghanistan is safe, prosperous, and able to engage in the global community effectively will only be possible if women and girls have fundamental rights. The U.S. government and the entire international community must not accept anything less.