Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders are institutionalizing large-scale, and systematic gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls, a group of UN human rights experts said Monday.
In a statement, the experts detailed restrictive measures introduced since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August last year, particularly those concerning women and girls.
“Today, we are witnessing the attempt to steadily erase women and girls from public life in Afghanistan, including in institutions and mechanisms previously set up to assist and protect those women and girls who are most at risk,” the experts said.
They were referring to the closure of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the physical occupation of the premises of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
“Taken together, these policies constitute a collective punishment of women and girls, grounded on gender-based bias and harmful practices,” the experts said.
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Of particular concern is the continued denial of the fundamental right of women and girls to secondary and tertiary education, on the premise that women and men must be segregated and that female students abide by a specific dress code.
The vast majority of girls’ secondary schools remain closed, and most girls who should be attending grades 7-12 are denied access to school, based solely on their gender, said the experts.
The group, comprising more than 25 UN special rapporteurs and experts, voiced concerns regarding women from ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities such as the Hazara, Tajik, Hindu, and other communities who are even more vulnerable in Afghanistan.
They also noted the increased risk of exploitation of women and girls, including trafficking for child and forced marriages, and forced labor.
The policies are enforced through a raft of measures such as barring women from returning to their jobs, requiring a male relative to accompany them in public spaces, prohibiting women from using public transport on their own, as well as imposing a strict dress code on women and girls.
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“In addition to severely limiting their freedom of movement, expression and association, and their participation in public and political affairs, these policies have also affected the ability of women to work and to make a living, pushing them further into poverty,” the experts said.
“Various vital, and sometimes lifesaving, service providers supporting survivors of gender-based violence have shut down for fear of retribution, as have many women’s shelters, with potentially fatal consequences for the many victims in need of such services.”
Other efforts to dismantle systems designed to respond to gender-based violence included discontinuing specialized courts and prosecution units responsible for enforcing the 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
The experts also cited reports of peaceful protesters having been often beaten, ill-treated, threatened, and in confirmed instances detained arbitrarily.
They reiterated their call to the international community to step up urgently needed humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people and the realization of their right to recovery and development.
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