Afghan Women’s rights: The Challenging Ordeal for the United Nations
By: Hangama Qasemi
Since its establishment in Afghanistan 78 years ago, the United Nations has faced challenging circumstances regarding women‘s rights issues, particularly under the current regime of the Taliban.
The United Nations was established in 1945 with the aim of maintaining global security, peace, and human dignity. Women, who make up half of the population, have been the focus of attention of all international, regional, and domestic institutions. The United Nations Charter placed a strong emphasis on the need for gender equality among its member states. Furthermore, the United Nations has played a significant role in strengthening the gender approach and establishing norms in the field of women‘s rights in various sectors, such as politics, society, economics, and culture, through the establishment of specific institutions for women, the approval of international documents, and the holding of world conferences. Since its inception, the United Nations has made the protection of women‘s rights one of its primary objectives and has been able to present itself as a defender of women‘s rights on the international stage. However, despite its efforts to improve the status of women, violence, injustice, cruelty, and oppression against women remain widespread in this country due to the changes brought about by the collapse of the republican system.
For more than four decades, the people of Afghanistan have been unable to achieve peace due to war and insecurity, particularly for women and girls. The Taliban regime (1996 – 2001) was particularly oppressive towards women‘s rights, leaving a dark stain on the history of Afghan women. Following the events of September 11, 2001, the United Nations–supervised Bonn conference proposed a plan for the formation of a new government in Afghanistan that would guarantee fundamental rights such as human rights, women‘s rights, freedom of speech, and the press. As a result, the issue of women‘s rights became a priority in the process of state–building, with the West intervening due to the poor quality of life for women. The Bonn conference also highlighted topics such as ‘women and development,’ security and housing, the establishment of women‘s institutions and associations, and the inclusion of women in the government.
Upon the formation of the new government, the United Nations initiated a range of programs to promote women‘s rights and provide support at both the mass and elite levels. The government also implemented all national policies by passing laws and adhering to international documents, creating a favorable environment for improving the status of women. As a result of these efforts, women were able to move away from a state of absolute obstruction and become more integrated into society. This led to a significant number of women taking on government positions. Furthermore, the government took into account the announcement of women‘s candidacy in elections, their membership in political institutions, movements, and civil society, the establishment of political parties, and their involvement in major decisions in the post–Taliban era. Each of these cases was seen as being of great value for the naturalization and recognition of women‘s presence in politics.
Indeed, studies show that these developments only took place for some educated and active women/girls who lived in the centres of the provinces and belonged to the middle or upper classes, as they have always been present as women‘s representatives. Consequently, the narratives of the growth and progress of the country’s women do not include women from rural society or the lower classes.
On August 15, 2021, the Taliban re–emerged and once again deprived women of their fundamental rights and their right to participate in political and social activities. Concrete restrictions imposed against Afghan women include closing schools and universities, banning work and travel without a male guardian, and compulsory hijab. This policy, which originates from a radical and extremist government, could drive Afghan women to the margins and present Afghanistan with an unskilled generation, the negative effects of which are already being seen.
Despite the numerous challenges, Afghan women have not abandoned their struggle for freedom. They have become the primary protectors of liberty and champions of democracy, speaking out against the oppressive laws and regulations of the Taliban. Their pursuit of justice and their tireless efforts in the current climate of fear and terror demonstrate the progress and empowerment of women in the last two decades. However, the tragedy of the current situation and the denial of the right to work, study, and freedom has plunged them into a dark period of their lives.
Despite the undeniable growth and progress of women over the past two decades, the United Nations‘ efforts to improve the status of women and promote their rights have been unsuccessful in Afghanistan. With the change in the country‘s political system in August 2021, Afghan women have been confined to their homes and denied all their political, social, and educational rights, effectively erasing them from all aspects of social life.
Recent data indicates that the Taliban have declared the resumption of university courses, however, only for boys and not girls. Consequently, girls remain in a state of complete uncertainty. Women have been denied all of their rights, including the right to work in government and non–government offices. Therefore, if the United Nations and its associated organizations do not take decisive and firm action to protect women, they will undoubtedly damage their reputation on the international stage and demonstrate their incapability to prevent the violation of women‘s rights. Additionally, the rights and demands of women in this country will be rendered futile and ineffectual.
After enduring the Taliban‘s oppressive rule until 2001 and more than a year and a half of injustice, we, the women of Afghanistan, have once again reached out to the international community and the United Nations for change, peace, and an improvement of our current situation. If the international community, particularly the United Nations, does not put forth the necessary effort now, when will it? If we are not treated kindly by the international community today, the world‘s promise and commitment to support women‘s rights will be nothing more than an illusion for us.
The United Nations has often been criticized for its lack of legal and political influence in the international sphere. It has been accused of manipulating legal concepts for political gain in numerous cases. This is the ideal moment to refuse to recognize and apply pressure to the Taliban, and to bring about changes in the status of Afghan women in order to restore their credibility.