Margot Wallstrom, who chairs the Women’s Forum on Afghanistan, is asking the United Nations Security Council to pay an urgent visit to the Taliban-controlled country. Wallstrom, who was Sweden’s foreign minister from 2014 to 2019, addressed her request to the Council’s monthly rotating president, Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane of Japan, in a letter dated Jan. 5. The forum is a network of Afghan and global women leaders.
The request comes as international nongovernmental organizations operating in Afghanistan are facing ever-tougher fiscal and regulatory restrictions in their operations since the Taliban’s forced takeover in August 2021. The latest edict by the Taliban — banning women from working in the civil sector — has left some high-profile organizations, like the Norwegian Refugee Council, scrambling to leave, although UN humanitarian-aid groups in Afghanistan say they are committed to staying, despite that most of their local workforce consists of Afghan women.
The Taliban’s order is a sequel to numerous other bans in the last year and a half, including stopping women from attending university and girls from going to school after sixth grade, women from leaving the home without a male chaperone and being forced to wear a hijab. Activists in Afghanistan and the diaspora refer to the Taliban’s unrelenting oppression as an “erasure” of females in the country.
The last time the Security Council visited the jihadi-ravaged country was in January 2018, under the monthly rotating Council presidency of Kazakhstan then. The trip occurred when Ashraf Ghani’s government, supported by the international community, was in office. [Update: A closed meeting of the Council is scheduled for 10 A.M. on Jan. 13 on Afghanistan]
Now, most of the diplomatic world is refusing to recognize the government of the Taliban. That includes the UN, which calls the Taliban the “de facto” authorities of the country. Experts say this policy by the global community has made already-strapped civil society operations in Afghanistan more difficult and is depriving the country of much-needed resources. The United States, for example, demands that the Taliban recognize the rights of women and girls before it will do business with Afghan officials. The UN political mission in Afghanistan, Unama, is also insisting on the Taliban’s assurance of women’s rights — to no avail yet.
In the letter written by the Afghan women’s forum, the network acknowledges the danger of a Council visit being viewed as legitimizing the Taliban and calls on the Council’s 15 members to bring Afghan women leaders with them to promote discussions.
The forum, which is directed by a steering committee of Afghan women leaders, considers this extreme diplomatic course of action an imperative, as it feels that “statements are simply not enough to have any impact.” (The Council’s most recent statement on Afghanistan.)
Although the request is unprecedented, the letter identifies a procedural basis that validates its demand.
Through Resolution 1401, the Council created the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) in 2002. Further, Council Resolution 2626 in March 2022 empowered the mission to “facilitate an inclusive political dialogue in Afghanistan and promote participatory governance.”
But so far, the letter said: “UNAMA has focused its work largely on humanitarian aid. It has been unable to make progress in the implementation of the political component of its mandate.” The Japanese mission to the UN did not respond to an email seeking a comment about the letter.
Reports emanating from Afghanistan suggest that the latest moves by the Taliban to exclude women from gaining education and employment are deeply unpopular. Shabnam Nasimi, a former policy adviser to Afghanistan’s Minister of Refugees and Resettlement, shared a video clip that has gone viral of a professor from Kabul University tearing up his certificates on live TV as an act of solidarity with women and girls in his country. Protests have not let up for the last year in parts of Afghanistan over the Taliban rules that bar women from public places and secondary schools, although in a few scattered rural provinces girls are still attending the latter.
474 days since the Taliban BANNED teenage girls from school and 17 days since the Taliban BANNED women from university.
Education is NOT a privilege. It is the most basic of human rights. How can the world still remain silent?pic.twitter.com/310qC0X4CS
— Shabnam Nasimi (@NasimiShabnam) January 5, 2023
The code instituted by the Islamic fundamentalists who first gained power in 1996 forbids men and women from working together. With the recent ban on Afghan female employees of NGOs, aid can reach women only through the men in their household or if men work for such organizations, as the Taliban have suggested could happen.
The new edict, aid workers say, disrupts the structure and logistics of their services. Many of the women that are being stopped from working are the sole breadwinners of their families in a country where people continue to starve since the Taliban takeover in 2021.
“We feel it is urgent and necessary for the United Nations to respond further and at the highest level, in a proactive manner, to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the inability of UNAMA to make meaningful progress in promoting a political dialogue and respect for fundamental women’s rights,” Wallstrom wrote in the letter.
This article was updated to include new information on a Security Council meeting on Afghanistan on Jan. 13.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on the bans against Afghan women and girls?
Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.