On 19 September the Global Centre joined Open Society Foundations’ Justice Initiative and the governments of Albania, Belgium, Cabo Verde, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Guatemala, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta and Spain in co-hosting a ministerial-level meeting on systematic gender-based persecution of women and girls in Afghanistan. Additionally Afghanistan’s Permanent Mission in New York co-hosted the meeting.
For over two years women and girls in Afghanistan have endured some of the most severe forms of gender-based discrimination and grave human rights violations in the world. The Taliban has violated key human rights treaties that underpin the international human rights system through restrictive policies and practices that target women and girls and perpetuate the denial of their basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. Repressive edicts confine women and girls in an oppressive environment with limited to no ability to participate in public and daily life – this includes restrictions on their freedom of movement, freedom of expression, employment opportunities, political participation, and access to education and healthcare. Afghanistan stands alone as the only country in the world where girls and young women are barred from attending secondary school and higher education.
UN Special Procedures mandate holders have concluded that the scale of gender-based discrimination in Afghanistan is “unparalleled globally.” They have characterized the treatment of women and girls there as likely amounting to gender persecution, a crime against humanity, and gender segregation. Some have also proposed to describe the situation as a possible “gender apartheid”, as the Taliban appears to be governing by systemic discrimination with the intention to subject women and girls to total domination. In June 2023, they urged States to “[s]upport…justice-seeking efforts for Afghan women and girls for violations of their human rights.”
These widespread and systematic violations of women’s and girls’ fundamental rights have, and will continue to have, reverberating economic and development consequences throughout Afghanistan. Despite the looming threat of violent retaliation, women in Afghanistan have courageously led peaceful public demonstrations demanding restoration of their human rights. These demands are often met with excessive use of force, leading to arrest, arbitrary detention, which sometimes amounts to enforced disappearance, and ill-treatment. The discriminatory and restrictive environment faced by women and girls in Afghanistan is further exacerbated as victims of gender-based violence endure physical and psychological suffering with limited access to any protection services or accountability mechanisms.
During the meeting, ministers were able to devise strategies, together with Afghan women human rights defenders, on practical steps to improve the situation for women and girls in Afghanistan and discuss ways the international community can support and amplify these efforts. The meeting, which was moderated by the Global Centre’s Executive Director, Savita Pawnday, was opened by the Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Luxembourg, H.E. Jean Asselborn. Following the Foreign Minister’s remarks were keynote addresses from the former Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States, H.E. Roya Rahmani, and Afghan human rights lawyer and women’s rights activist, Humaira Ameery. The Deputy Executive Director for Policy, Programme, Civil Society and Intergovernmental Support at UN Women, Sarah Hendriks, also delivered remarks. Closing statements were made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, and the Vice President of Programs at Open Society Foundations, Binaifer Nowrojee.
Following the closing of the event, a joint declaration was released by the governments of Albania, Belgium, Cabo Verde, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta and Spain.