Women's Rights

UN chief urges Taliban to fix 'broken' promises made to women, girls

By Salaam Times and AFP

An Afghan girl walks along a path on her way to school on the outskirts of Herat on September 21. [Hoshang Hashimi/AFP]

An Afghan girl walks along a path on her way to school on the outskirts of Herat on September 21. [Hoshang Hashimi/AFP]

UNITED NATIONS -- United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday (October 11) slammed the Taliban's "broken" promises to Afghan women and girls, and urged the world to donate more money to Afghanistan to head off its economic collapse.

The comments came on the heels of the first face-to-face talks between the United States and the Taliban since the Islamists took control of the country, at which the issue of women's rights was raised, according to the State Department.

"I am particularly alarmed to see promises made to Afghan women and girls by the Taliban being broken," Guterres told reporters.

"I strongly appeal to the Taliban to keep their promises to women and girls and fulfill their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law."

The UN "will not give up" on the issue, said Guterres, adding that the body discusses it daily with the Taliban, who have been in power since mid-August but whose government is still not internationally recognised.

"Broken promises lead to broken dreams for the women and girls of Afghanistan," Guterres said, noting that three million girls have enrolled in school since 2001, and that the average length of education for girls has increased from six years to 10.

"Eighty percent of Afghanistan's economy is informal, with a preponderant role of women. Without them, there is no way the Afghan economy and society will recover," the UN chief warned.

Guterres also spoke at length about the challenges faced by Afghanistan's economy. Foreign bankers have frozen Afghan assets held abroad, while international organisations and governments have suspended development aid.

"We need to find ways to make the economy breathe again. This can be done without violating international laws or compromising principles," he said.

"I urge the world to take action and inject liquidity into the Afghan economy to avoid collapse."

It is possible for international funds or money from blocked Afghan assets to be paid to UN agencies and nongovernmental organisations that then pay salaries to Afghans on the ground, say UN officials.

This practice, with bank exemptions authorised by the United States in particular, already has been used in the past for other countries including Yemen.

But Guterres warned the international community was moving too slowly to give aid to Afghanistan, where the humanitarian and economic crisis affects at least 18 million people -- about half the population.

International humanitarian aid has thus far been delivered to different parts of the country without obstruction from the Taliban, and even with their co-operation and security assistance, he said.

"The number of incidents during humanitarian operations has been in constant decline," Guterres said.

Promises to women, girls

The Taliban were notorious for their oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001, when they largely barred women from work and school, including a ban on them leaving their homes unless a male relative accompanied them.

They have promised a more moderate brand of rule this time -- though they have made clear that they will run Afghanistan within the restrictive limits of their interpretation of sharia law.

However, girls in Afghanistan are still waiting to be allowed back in schools, though hopes are dimming.

Under new Taliban restrictions, girls may attend school only until sixth grade, while women at private universities will be separated from men and may attend only if they wear an abaya and a niqab. All public universities remain closed.

It has been almost two months that girls have been waiting to return to Afghan schools, but the Taliban's stance on girls' education remains unclear, said Nasima Azimi, a 10th grade student in Herat city.

"Despite economic hardships I pursued my education, hoping to become a doctor one day," Azimi said, as she expressed disappointment over the Taliban's denial of girls' education.

Thousands of talented Afghan girls are waiting to go to school and want a role in the future of their country, but they are not allowed to do so, Nasima said.

"We call on the Taliban not to prevent girls from going to school," she said, adding that the Taliban have nothing to fear from girls' education.

She said she does not want her dreams to be ruined before her eyes.

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