More than 20 special envoys for Afghanistan from countries across the world as well as special envoys for Afghanistan from the European Union and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation will convene at a meeting in Doha on Monday that is being organized by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. The participants will discuss the critical situation in Afghanistan, including the steady destruction of women’s rights, including most recently the Taliban’s ban on UN employment of Afghan women. Women and girls are no longer allowed access to education or to employment, fundamental violations of human rights that equates to gender apartheid.
Almost all the special envoys are men, and despite repeated requests, no Afghan women have been invited to the meeting on May 1-2, which is key to their future and that of their country. We have been assured that the Taliban will not be present at the meeting and that recognition is not on the table. As the Taliban take giant steps backward on women’s rights, there can be no “baby steps” forward on recognition. Instead, more international sanctions should be imposed to respond to recent developments.
In Security Council Resolution 1325 — enshrining the women, peace and security agenda — the critical importance of women’s participation in meetings like Doha was recognized and endorsed in 2000, more than two decades ago. The UN is facing many challenging decisions in regard to Afghanistan, trying to balance the need for humanitarian aid with the practical obstacles in delivering it without women as well as abiding by the principle of nondiscrimination embedded in the UN Charter. Who better to consult on these difficult issues than Afghan women, who care deeply about both the humanitarian and human-rights crises in our country? Yet many decisions have been made and continue to do so without our essential consultation.
We understand that the actions of the Taliban are beyond the control of the international community. But we do not understand why Afghan women are being entirely excluded from the Doha meeting organized by the UN itself, which is mandated to carry out Resolution 1325. The global envoys — almost all men — will be talking about us without us. Why? We always ask for a seat at the table, and we have asked for just one hour of this two-day meeting. But we have been told it is not possible. What message does this exclusion send to the Taliban, to Afghan women and to the rest of the world about where the UN actually stands?
The last time that girls were not allowed to go to school and women were not allowed to go to work in Afghanistan was the previous time the Taliban were in power. The trampling of women’s rights was ignored until 9/11, after which many people in the country and beyond recognized that women in Afghanistan were like the canaries in the coal mine. As Winston Churchill said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Counterterrorism is surely on the agenda of the UN meeting next week as well. These issues are all connected.
We are tirelessly speaking out — in the UN, on social media, on panels and in op-eds. The voices of Afghan women are not being heard, and our faith in the UN is being shaken. Last month, the Security Council adopted a resolution calling for an independent assessment of the UN’s strategy in Afghanistan. Guterres has just appointed Feridun Sinirlioglu of Türkiye as the special coordinator of the assessment. We hope he will meaningfully consult Afghan women, as we have many ideas about the present and the future of Afghanistan. Our country can succeed only if women are able to participate fully in political decision-making. We are ready and waiting for Security Council Resolution 1325 to be carried out and prove its unique value to everyone.