A UN expert has described the “staggering repression” of women and girls in Afghanistan, as the UN mission in the country accused Taliban authorities of harassing its female Afghan employees.
In a statement on Monday, the UN mission described “an emerging pattern of harassment of Afghan UN female staff by the de facto authorities. Three Afghan women working for the UN were recently detained briefly and questioned by Taliban gunmen,” it said.
The UN called for an immediate end to all such acts of “intimidation and harassment targeting its Afghan female staff,” and reminded local authorities of their obligations under international law to guarantee the safety and security of all UN personnel operating in Afghanistan.
A statement released by the Taliban late Monday evening denied that local authorities had detained any UN employees.
The incident came as Richard Bennett, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, called for radical changes. “The severe rollback of the rights of women and girls, reprisals targeting opponents and critics, and a clampdown on freedom of expression by the Taliban amount to a descent towards authoritarianism,” he told a Human Rights Council meeting.
Afghanistan ambassador Nasir Ahmad Andisha, who represents the toppled government, went further, describing a “gender apartheid” in the country.
Several Afghan women addressed the same meeting, including rights activist Mahbouba Seraj, who urged the 47-member council to set up a mechanism to investigate abuses.
“God only knows what kind of atrocities are not being reported,” she told the room full of UN diplomats in Geneva. “And I want that to be reported because this is not right. World: this is not right. Please, please, you’ve got to do something about it.”
A year after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, teenage girls are still barred from school and women are required to cover themselves from head to toe in public, with only their eyes showing. Hardliners appear to hold sway in the Taliban-led government, which imposed severe restrictions on access to education and jobs for girls and women, despite initial promises to the contrary.
Assistant secretary general for human rights, Ilze Brands Kehris, said that approximately 850,000 girls had so far dropped out of school, placing them at risk of child marriage and sexual economic exploitation.
On Saturday, in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktia province, Taliban authorities shut down five girls’ schools above the sixth grade that had briefly opened after a recommendation by tribal elders and school principals.
Earlier this month, four girls’ schools in Gardez, the provincial capital, and one in the Samkani district began operating without formal permission from the Taliban education ministry. On Saturday, all five schools were once again closed by authorities.
The UN has repeatedly urged the Taliban to ensure respect for international human rights.