UN excludes Afghan women from meeting with Taliban in what critics condemn as 'gender apartheid'

The United Nations has organized a meeting with representatives from the Taliban in Doha, Qatar on June 30 and July 1 to discuss the regime's place in the international community. Notably absent from the guest list are Afghan women, who have suffered horrendous human rights abuses under increasingly restrictive theocratic rule.

Not one female from the war-torn nation was invited to take part in the main meetings, a decision that was met with widespread condemnation by human rights groups and representatives. Nonetheless, a number of envoys preparing to attend the meeting have vowed to make sure women's rights are brought up.

The UN defended its decision by noting that on July 2, after talks with the Taliban have concluded, the Under-Secretary-General and Special Envoys will meet with "representatives of Afghan civil society, including human rights and women's rights advocates" to hear their concerns. 

The international body argued that the Doha event should be seen as "part of a process" with the objective of achieving "an Afghanistan at peace with itself and its neighbors, fully integrated into the international community and meeting its international obligations, including on human rights, particularly those of women and girls." 

The UN representative for Afghanistan said he believed those objectives "cannot be realized without addressing the issues of legitimacy, political process, humanitarian crisis and the human rights situation." His sentiments were shared by representatives from nearly a dozen other countries, some of whom referred to the situation under Taliban rules as "gender apartheid."

When pressed on the issue, Roza Otunbayeva, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, made it clear that "engagement [with the Taliban] is not legitimization or normalization," but rather, to come together and try to "agree on next steps to alleviate the uncertainties that face the Afghan people."

"The credibility of this meeting will be in tatters if it doesn’t adequately address the human rights crisis in Afghanistan and fails to involve Afghan women human rights defenders and other relevant stakeholders from Afghan civil society," Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard said in a statement. "Sidelining critical discussions on human rights would be unacceptable and set a deeply damaging precedent. Caving into the Taliban's conditions to secure their participation in the talks would risk legitimising their gender-based, institutionalised system of oppression — a system that has sought to erase women and girls from society by callously stripping them of their most fundamental rights. The international community must adopt a clear and united stance: the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan are non-negotiable. They must be at the heart of the UN-convened meeting in Doha which should result in their restoration."


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