The Taliban continues to impose restrictions on women’s education and work, including a ban on women working in United Nations agencies. This decision has received strong criticism from the United Nations. In response, the United Nations warned of the possibility of leaving Afghanistan. However, the United Nations announced a new decision after the specified deadline, expressing its intention to maintain a presence in Afghanistan. The UN Women’s Office categorizes the prohibition of Afghan women from working in this organization and non-governmental organizations not as a step in the wrong direction, but as a devastating blow. The agency acknowledges its ongoing struggle to secure women’s rights, emphasizing that nowhere else in the world is its mission as severely challenged as in Afghanistan. The UN Women’s Office also reaffirms its commitment to working exclusively with male teams and refusing to compromise on its principles regarding women’s involvement. On the other hand, women protesting what they perceive as “secret deals” between the United Nations and the Taliban demand that the organization’s million-dollar aid does not contribute to the continued rule of this group in Afghanistan.
In a press release on Monday, May 22, the UN Women’s Office announced its decision to exclusively work with male teams in Afghanistan and maintain its unwavering commitment to its principled approach in working with women. The agency expressed its dedication to supporting Afghan women and strongly emphasized that the exclusion of women from working with United Nations entities goes against international values.
The Challenging and difficult presence of the United Nations in Afghanistan
The UN Women’s Office characterized its mission in Afghanistan as a challenging endeavor. It emphasized that achieving women’s rights entails a profound struggle, particularly crucial in Afghanistan. In its press release, the UN Women’s Office stated, “The fight for women’s rights is a global battle, but Afghanistan stands as the epitome of our mission, purpose, and impact being relentlessly challenged.”
The UN Women’s Office further expressed the severe impact of the threats and restrictions faced by Afghan women. The agency stated, “The United Nations for Women has been greatly affected by the specific limitations and threats confronting women.”
The prohibition of women’s work in the United Nations and the contradiction with values
The United Nations Charter mandates the organization to ensure equal employment conditions for both women and men. The complete ban on women’s work in the United Nations in Afghanistan goes against Article 8 of the organization’s Charter. Article 8 explicitly states, “Men and women shall have equal eligibility to participate, in any capacity and under conditions of equality, in the principal and subsidiary organs of the United Nations, without any restrictions.”
The UN Women’s Office labeled the prohibition of women’s work in the agency as an “assault” on women’s rights. In a news release, the Women’s Office declared, “The recent ban on Afghan women working for non-governmental organizations and the United Nations is not merely a misstep; it is a matter of life and death. It stands in direct contradiction to the values that form the foundation of the international community—our identity and beliefs.”
Commands and Systematic Exclusion of Women by the Taliban
The UN Women’s Office has characterized the commands and decrees issued by the Taliban regarding women as a “systematic exclusion.” In a statement, the organization affirmed, “Over the past two years, the objective behind these commands, decrees, and behaviors has been to systematically exclude Afghan women and girls from social life.” Recently, leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations condemned the Taliban for their severe and systematic violation of women’s rights. The group’s statement asserted, “We vehemently oppose the systematic infringement upon human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Taliban and insist on the immediate reversal of these unacceptable decisions, particularly those targeting women and girls. All Afghan citizens should have equal and meaningful participation in all public spheres, along with access to essential services and humanitarian aid.”
In the recent incident, video footage circulating on social media depicts the Taliban Moral Police slapping a city taxi driver in Kabul for transporting female passengers without veils. Additionally, the Hasht-e Subh Daily previously published a separate report on the Taliban’s restrictive directives targeting women. According to the report, the Taliban has issued more than 20 restrictive commands in the last two years, effectively eradicating women from public spaces and social life.
How will the United Nations operate in Afghanistan?
The UN Women’s Office has posed the question of which approach it will adopt to address the humanitarian crisis and safeguard women’s rights in the country. The organization stated, “Our most urgent concern is determining the course of action for upholding principled approaches amidst the world’s most severe humanitarian and women’s rights crisis. Since April 4, all our Afghan staff, both women and men, have been working remotely.” Around 70% of the United Nations personnel in Afghanistan are women. The United Nations Women’s Office highlighted, “Our staff comprises 70% women, with 55% being Afghan women.”
The UN Women’s Office faces a critical decision regarding its mission in Afghanistan: whether to proceed without the inclusion of women or compromise its organizational principles. This predicament arises from the Taliban’s refusal to allow women to work in United Nations agencies, which directly contradicts the United Nations Charter’s provisions on equal employment. The United Nations Women’s Office has not specified the principles it would uphold if the Taliban persists in prohibiting women.
Will the United Nations work with all-male teams?
The United Nations previously declared its commitment to staying in Afghanistan. More recently, the UN Women’s Office reiterated its dedication to maintaining a permanent presence in the country and continuing its activities. However, it emphasized that it will not exclusively work with all-male teams. The organization made its stance clear in a statement: “We will not solely engage with all-male teams, and we will uphold our principles in working with women for women.”
The UN Women’s Office, aligning with the United Nations’ commitment to staying in Afghanistan, affirmed that its Afghanistan Office will remain operational and continue to innovate, revitalize, and reassess its approach. The organization expressed, “Although this presents an unprecedented challenge, our dedication to Afghan women and girls is unwavering. We will stay in Afghanistan, persist in our innovative efforts, breathe new life into our initiatives, and adapt our strategies. We will exert every effort to make a meaningful difference in the lives of Afghan women, as we work towards forging a path forward.”
The Fight for Women’s Rights in Afghanistan is a Fight for All Women
The UN Women’s Office emphasizes that the struggle for women’s rights in Afghanistan encompasses the rights of women worldwide who experience oppression and abuse. In their statement, the organization declares, “The fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan extends beyond Afghan women and girls; it encompasses the rights of all women who have endured global oppression and abuse, and those who have long been silenced due to their gender.”
Under what conditions does the United Nations stay in Afghanistan?
The United Nations has affirmed its dedication to sustaining its operations and offering assistance to the Afghan people. In a prior statement, Farhan Haq, the Deputy Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, expressed, “The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is committed to staying in Afghanistan and delivering aid to Afghan men, women, and children. We urge donors to continue providing the essential financial support needed by the people. To ensure the effective delivery of aid, the United Nations requires unhindered participation of all staff, both women and men, in communities and UN offices.”
Despite the Taliban’s restrictions, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has declared its commitment to persist in its operations in Afghanistan. The organization affirms its intention to remain in the country and initiate discussions with the Taliban. Fran Equiza, the UNICEF Afghanistan Representative, announced during a press conference in New York that female staff members will carry on their work remotely from home and offices.
In addition, Cindy Hensley McCain, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), stated, “We have no plans to halt our humanitarian support and aid delivery in Afghanistan. We will provide assistance in areas of the country whenever feasible, recognizing the urgent need for aid in Afghanistan.”
The Women’s Movement for Peace and Freedom issued a statement expressing dissatisfaction with the temporary reactions from countries and international organizations, stating that they have not led to any significant change in the status of women. The statement emphasizes that the Taliban has become even more bold in implementing their restrictive policies. It reads, “This group has escalated its violence and atrocities, as media reports and monitoring organizations continue to reveal distressing news about the human rights situation in Afghanistan. They persistently engage in gender discrimination and flagrant violations of international laws and conventions.” The protesting women urge the global community and the United Nations to cease clandestine dealings with the Taliban and refrain from providing millions of dollars in aid to human rights violators and well-known criminals. They assert that remaining silent and paying tribute to a criminal group not only contradicts the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, and respect enshrined in the United Nations Charter and other international laws and conventions, but also contributes to the oppression of Afghan women.
Amidst these developments, the Chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs has written a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, urging him not to accept the ban on women working in non-governmental organizations and UN agencies in Afghanistan.
Chairman Michael McCaul of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs expressed deep concern about the Taliban’s orders that prohibit Afghan women from working in non-governmental organizations and the United Nations in Afghanistan. He encouraged the United Nations to continue supporting Afghan women by opposing and rejecting the implementation of male-only humanitarian aid.
Earlier, both the UN Women’s Office and the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 2681 strongly condemned the Taliban’s restrictions on women’s work in UN agencies. Council members have emphasized the importance of ensuring the full, equal, meaningful, and safe participation of women and girls in all social, political, and economic spheres of Afghanistan.