The 51st Session of the Human Rights council

12 September- 7 October 2022

Item 2: Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on human rights situation of women and girls in Afghanistan

12 September 2022

By Danya Al-Thani / GICJ


Executive Summary

On the 12th of September 2022, the Human Rights Council held an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan since the takeover of the Taliban. The meeting was held in response to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, Mr Richard Bennett, which documents the situation of human rights in Afghanistan from 15th August 2021, when the Taliban took control of Kabul, until July 2022. The main focus of the report was the situation of women and girls, whose rights have rapidly deteriorated. 

Since the establishment of an all-male, primarily Pashtun, government in Afghanistan, the Taliban has claimed that it is committed to protecting the rights of women and girls in the country according to Sharia law. However, women and girls have subsequently seen their rights diminish considerably. Such rules include the mandatory wearing of hijabs, a ban on colourful clothing, a requirement for women to stay at home unless it is necessary for them to leave, and rules restricting certain types of travel for women without the accompaniment of a male guardian.

An estimated 61% of women in Afghanistan have lost their businesses and jobs since the Taliban’s return to power. Female lawyers have had their licence revoked, while many women have been sent home from their civil service roles. Approximately 850,000 girls have been excluded from secondary education, despite the Taliban’s assurance that the suspension of girls’ secondary education was only temporary. Marriage laws do not protect girls under the age of 15 from being married, leading to concerns for their protection.

The UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ms Ilze Brands Kehris, who provided the opening statement, expressed the need for concrete action to be taken by the international community to uphold human rights for women and girls in Afghanistan. Mr Bennett and the Ambassador of Afghanistan, Mr Nasir A. Andisha, called for the establishment of an Independent Investigative Mechanism to provide a method of redress for women and girls in Afghanistan.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) urges the government of Afghanistan to effectively address the human rights violations highlighted during this interactive dialogue. We remain deeply concerned about the continued prevalence of violence and discrimination against women and girls in the state. We specifically call upon the Taliban to reverse the policies and practices that currently limit the human rights and freedoms of Afghan women and girls.



The report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, was submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution (A/HRC/RES/50/14), and outlined human rights developments in Afghanistan since the fall of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with a particular focus on the rights of women under the Taliban.

The report discusses the human rights situation in Afghanistan from the period of the Taliban’s takeover until July 2022. After rapidly gaining control over many provincial capitals, the Taliban took control of Kabul on 15th August 2021. In the period following, chaos ensued at Kabul International Airport, leading to the death of many people. Finally, when international forces fully withdrew on the 30th August, and the Taliban captured Panjshir province, they declared complete territorial control over Afghanistan.

On 7 September 2021, the Taliban announced an all-male, predominantly Pashtun, caretaker cabinet and other key governmental positions at the national and provincial levels. Appointees are Taliban affiliates, many of whom are on the UN Security Council (1276) and individual Member States sanctions lists. Although the Taliban have repeatedly claimed that their administration is inclusive, it lacks gender, ethnic, religious, political and geographical diversity.

Since the takeover, concern for human rights under the Taliban, and specifically the rights of women, have been made by international organisations. For example, initially the Taliban suspended secondary schools for girls until such time that uniforms and protocols could be established. They claimed that such measures were temporary, however in many regions the schools remain closed and around 850,000 girls remain unable to go to school. The report documents these and several other areas where human rights have been reduced since the establishment of the new Taliban regime in Afghanistan.


Opening Statement

Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, noted that having the voices of Afghan women and girls at the centre of discussions about the human rights situation in Afghanistan was critical, and the Office of the High Commissioner had sought to bring a diversity of these voices to the Council.This dialogue would focus on the impact of the actions of the Taliban on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls, including minority women, and the crucial roles played by women journalists and human rights defenders. Presently, women and girls suffer from  limited access to mechanisms that can offer justice and redress. Since the Taliban took power, they had repeatedly asserted that women’s rights were protected under Sharia, and yet their repeated edicts had undone women’s agency, removing them from public life, closing secondary schools for girls, and leaving an estimated 850,000 girls at risk of child marriage, as well as economic and sexual exploitation. Afghanistan was now the only country in the world where girls were denied secondary education, limiting their development abilities and their ability to live independent lives in the future, whilst also impeding Afghanistan’s progress to becoming an equal and just country.

Women were hindered from accessing healthcare, particularly sexual and reproductive healthcare, and from escaping abusive relationships. Female civil servants have been directed to stay at home, and some even to nominate a male family member to replace them. Members of minority groups have been subjected to particular harassment and discrimination, and other groups of women, including those with disabilities, are also suffering from inter-sectional discrimination. Human rights oversight mechanisms have been dismantled, as have the specialised courts for gender issues.

Gender-based violence and violence against women is chronic, with no opportunity for restitution. With the rapid closing of public spaces for women, the role of women journalists and women human rights defenders has become even more crucial. Reports of attacks aimed at silencing their voices are appalling. There are no investigations into such cases, and those responsible have evaded prosecution. Ms Kehris urged the Council to translate dialogue  into concrete action, so that women and girls in Afghanistan can see that the international community truly stands with them. Today is an opportunity for the Council to reaffirm and act upon its commitment for the full enjoyment of human rights for all women and girls of Afghanistan.


Report of the Special Rapporteur

The report of the Special Rapporteur, Richard Bennett, reflected on developments since the Taliban’s seizure of powerin Afghanistan in August 2021. It included details on discrimination and violence against women; conflict related violations; restrictions of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly; economic, social and cultural rights; and administration of justice. It also included the vision and priorities for the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.

The report began by outlining the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and their establishment of an all-male, predominantly Pashtun, caretaker government on September 7th 2021. Although the Taliban has repeatedly claimed this administration is inclusive, it lacks gender, ethnic, religious, political and geographical diversity. The de facto authorities have asserted that women’s rights are protected under Sharia law, however the measures they have taken so far create concern for what this might mean in practice.

Several measures have reduced the freedoms and rights of women in Afghanistan. These include the suspension of girls’ secondary education, mandatory hijab wearing, a requirement that women stay at home unless it is necessary for them to leave, a ban on certain travel without a close male family member, revoking female lawyers’ licences and demanding that women not wear coloured clothing.

When the Taliban were previously in power, schools were closed to girls. Despite their pledge that Afghan girls would be allowed to return to school after 21 March 2022, this has not occurred. The reason the authorities have given for this delay are the difficulties in establishing policies and uniforms that follow Islamic law and Afghan culture. This means that around 850,000 girls have been denied secondary education in 24 out of 34 Afghan provinces. 

While laws banning forced marriage were introduced in December 2021 in Afghanistan, the Special Rapporteur regrets that these fall short of setting a minimum age for marriage. There is a concern that girls under the age of 15 may be married under the law provided her guardian proves her competency, puberty and expediency for that marriage.

Before the takeover by the Taliban, in 2021, approximately 17,369 women-owned businesses were creating over 129,000 jobs, over three-quarters of which were held by women. In addition, many more unregistered women-owned businesses operated in the informal economy. By March 2022, 61 percent of women had lost their job or income generating activities. Such restrictions are estimated to contribute an immediate economic loss of between US $600 million and US $1 billion (about 3 to 5 percent of GDP).

There is also an increasing problem linked to food security caused by drought, rising commodities prices, reduced incomes, supply chain disruptions (including the war in Ukraine) and insufficient donor support. The World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation warn that by November 2022, an estimated 18.9 million people – nearly half the population of Afghanistan – will face acute levels of food insecurity. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates 4.7 million people will suffer from acute malnutrition due to food insecurity in 2022, an increase of 21 per cent from 2021. Already, by June 2022, WFP assessed that 1,078,804 children under the age of five were suffering from severe acute malnutrition, while 2,807,452 children had moderate acute malnutrition, and 836,657 pregnant and lactating women had acute malnutrition.

Since 15 August 2021, deliberate damage to culturally significant sites have been reported. Artistic images and artefacts have been destroyed, including murals, and musical instruments at the Afghan National Institute of Music. Musicians and artists have been subjected to public shaming and penalties, including lashing, slapping and harassment, forcing many to flee the country or go into hiding. These acts jeopardise livelihoods and contribute to the deterioration of the country’s cultural diversity, social cohesion, and the creative economy. Similarly, journalists and media outside of major urban areas have been severely reduced with no local media in at least four provinces. In a further 15 provinces, between 40-80% of media outlets have closed.

The Special Rapporteur also believes that human rights are being undermined by the use of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, denial of due process and fair trials, forced displacement, collective punishment and severe deprivation of liberty of populations having taken place. The killing and maiming of children also account for 636 of recorded violations between January and June 2022. Currently 13.9% of the population live with severe disabilities (most prominent among females) and 65% with mild to moderate disabilities.

The Special Rapporteur concludes that, despite the promises of the Taliban to respect the rights of women within the framework of Islam, the situation has deteriorated to the point of crisis. This is primarily due to the actions of the Taliban and their failure to meet their obligation as duty bearers. The country is showing strong signs of descending into authoritarianism. The Special Rapporteur calls on the Taliban to be more inclusive, respect women’s rights, accept diversity and differences of perspective, protect the population, renounce violence, acknowledge and address human rights abuses and violations, rebuild the rule of law including oversight institutions, and accept, demand and provide accountability.


Interactive Dialogue

In the discussion, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, Mr Richard Bennett, stressed the importance of creating multiple platforms for Afghan women to express themselves. He also highlighted that the denial of women’s and girls’ rights was central to the Taliban’s ideology. As a result, edicts had been imposed that restricted women and girls’ daily lives, robbing them of their futures and stripping them of their identity and dignity. Those belonging to ethnic and religious minorities, as well as those with disabilities, suffer further discrimination. Mr Bennett urged the de facto authorities to urgently reverse discriminatory policies and directives that unduly restrict the rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls; to ensure equal participation of women in education, employment, governance and all other aspects of public life; to reopen all secondary schools for girls immediately and unconditionally, and to provide an equal and quality education to all girls and boys.

The Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN, Mr Nasir Ahmad Andisha, stated the harrowing environment, in which millions of women and girls in Afghanistan were living, was deeply alarming. He affirmed that all of the promises made by the Taliban to the international community, the Afghan people, and the women and girls of Afghanistan had been broken. Their misogynistic, draconian form of rule does not reflect Afghan religion, culture, or values. Moreover, he noted that the Taliban opposed modernity and human progress. Women were penalised for exercising their most basic rights, and had nowhere to turn - no support, no shelter, and no independent human rights commission. He reiterated that all women and girls were entitled to every right enshrined in the treaties to which Afghanistan was a party. Mr Andisha claimed that the staff and resources of the United Nations Assistance Mechanism in Afghanistan was insufficient and advocated for the establishment of an independent human rights mechanism to document violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in Afghanistan in an effort to provide redress for victims.

Former Commissioner of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Razia Sayad, reported that the Taliban had committed gross human rights violations against women and girls in Afghanistan. This included rules and regulations that degrade women. She expressed that the Afghans had been denied their legal, social and economic identities. The current tragedy is a by-product of the systems that were birthed and developed over the last two decades. Furthermore, the regime had shut down the courts and prosecution offices that judged violations of women’s rights. Under Taliban rule, female lawyers were replaced by fanatic Taliban members, leaving women with no access to justice. Women were particularly mistreated and insulted in judicial institutions. 

Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Coordinator of the Committee’s Task Force on Afghanistan, Bandana Rana, emphasised that, in Afghanistan, women’s participation in political and civil life was almost non-existent. She stated that all directives from the de facto authorities reinforced the dominance and control of men over women's lives. Afghanistan's abolishment of the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, along with the reactivation of the Ministry for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, sent a clear signal to women and entities tasked with advancing gender equality that there was no place for them.

On behalf of the Nordic and Baltic countries, the representative of Sweden remains deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, including access to education and their exclusion from political and social affairs. They noted that the promises made by the Taliban to respect the human rights of women and girls have not been fulfilled. The delegate urged the de facto authorities to take immediate steps to ensure women and girls, full and equal enjoyment of all human rights, such as freedom of movement, freedom of expression, and access to education and work.

The representative of the European Union highlighted the regression in women and girls’ enjoyment of all human rights since the Taliban came into power. The EU calls on the Taliban to reverse policies and practices that have dismantled progress made in the past 20 years and restricted the rights and freedoms of women and girls. They also stressed the need   for the de facto authorities to uphold international humanitarian law; immediately open all schools; and to respect the rights of women and girls to move, assemble, access services, and participate in work and other aspects of public life freely. The EU acknowledges and applauds the courage of women and girls in Afghanistan, who remain at the forefront of efforts to preserve their enjoyment of human rights and continue to call for accountability and for respect of their dignity.

The delegate of Pakistan, spoke on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). They expressed their concern over the crisis in Afghanistan today, as a result of a sequence of conflicts and instability over the past few years. Furthermore, they urged the de facto authorities to revisit their decision to suspend secondary education for Afghan girls. Lastly, they stated that the cumulative effects of conflict, violence and natural disasters have exacerbated the dire humanitarian, social, economic and human rights conditions of the Afghan people, including women and girls. The OIC emphasises the importance of sustained international engagement with the people of Afghanistan in areas such as, recovery, reconstruction, development and financial assistance. 

The delegate of Austria aligns itself with the statement delivered by the EU. All Taliban-imposed measures, such as the enforcement of the strict form of hijab, restrictions on women's freedom of movement, and severe barriers to employment, are condemned by Austria. These restrictions disregard the vital role women have played in social, political, economic and cultural life throughout the history of Afghanistan. Austria is also deeply concerned about the situation of female journalists in Afghanistan. According to Reporters Without Borders, 84% of female journalists and media workers have lost their jobs in the past year. There are several female journalists who have been forced to leave Afghanistan, and the increased restrictions implemented by the Taliban has made it difficult for those who remain. Austria calls upon the de facto authorities to immediately reverse policies and directives that negatively impact women as well as to prioritise women's and girls’ rights to equal participation in education, employment, and all other aspects of public life. 

The representative of the Russian Federation noticed the efforts by the Afghan government in ensuring the rights of women and girls in areas of marriage and property inheritance. The Russian Federation shared their concern about the exercise of the right to education. He stated that the healthcare sector employs 40,000 women and that other state entities, including education, employ a further 92,000. However, due to the financial difficulties in organising separate classes for boys and girls, there has been a pause in the education process for women in secondary schools. Therefore, to resolve these issues, Russia stresses that the United States and other countries should lift their freeze on the assets of schools. These States needed to support the Taliban in reconstructing Afghanistan. 


NGOs and Civil Society Organisations

Numerous NGOs shared similar concerns regarding the deterioration of the rights of women and girls to the full enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights since the Taliban took power. Women and girls face a situation in which their fundamental rights have been rapidly and systematically violated and denied purely because of their gender. Leading NGOs and human rights lawyers have labelled this ‘gender apartheid’ a crime against humanity.

In addition, as a result of the deteriorating situation, with acute food insecurity, disruption of health services, and psychological distress, the exploitation and neglect of children has increased. Moreover, NGOs stressed that there should be accountability and transparency of the international funding sent to Afghanistan.

NGOs urged the international community and member states to take urgent action to ensure a safe and secure environment for all women and girls in Afghanistan.

The statements included the necessity of establishing an independent investigative mechanism to monitor all violations of the human rights of women and girls.


Concluding Remarks

ZAHRA JOYA, journalist and representative of Rukhshana Media, said she was happy that they had discussed Afghanistan and the situation of women’s rights there. As a journalist, she requested all Member States of the United Nations to take a serious decision about the situation of the country and its women and to hold the Taliban accountable and ban them from the right to travel.

RAZIA SAYAD, Afghan lawyer and former Commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said she had lived all her life in Afghanistan, and knew her people, the country, and the Taliban. No person knew better than an Afghan woman the nature and ideology of the Taliban. The Taliban would not change, nor bend to international pressure, if anything, they have become even more intransigent. Expressing concern did not heal the pains of women. The only thing to help would be the establishment of a democratic regime in Afghanistan.

MAHBOUBA SERAJ, Afghan women’s rights activist and journalist, reminded the Council of the phrase  “walk the talk”, and urged member states to abide by this saying. Everybody present should show the Taliban what to do, and what would be done to make it happen. The international community should not show that it is desperate and could not do anything, as that is not the case. The international community should take it very seriously.

NASIR AHMAD ANDISHA, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva,said the messages had been loud and clear, and all speakers supported the restoration of the rights of Afghan women and girls. The international attention given to the issue shows its importance. This was the biggest and most important opportunity given to Afghan women to make their voices heard. All should keep the restoration of women’s rights at the forefront of their concerns. This should lead to continuing discussions.

BANDANA RANA, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Coordinator of the Committee’s Task Force on Afghanistan, repeated Ms. Seraj’s comment that Afghan women were being erased. There has to be collective visible action by the international community to make sure that this was not the case. The girls of Afghanistan still hope that they will be able to continue their studies and fulfil their aspirations. There was no alternative to collective action. United Nations agencies need to work in solidarity, build synergy, and communicate with each other in order to redress the rights of women and girls. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had asked for a report from the de facto authorities in Afghanistan, and believe that there is some form of communication that could be established in order to address the situation of women and girls.

RICHARD BENNETT, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, said this has been a very significant event. It has underlined the importance of the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. It was a message to Afghans, and Afghan women in particular, that they were not abandoned. The international community has a common responsibility - much more needs to be done in practice than hasbeen to date and this could start with listening to Afghan women, and asking them to make a strategy. Real change would come from within Afghanistan, and there were signs of this beginning. Practical support for those who were struggling inside Afghanistan, and even those who were settling outside Afghanistan was very much needed.

FEDERICO VILLEGAS, President of the Human Rights Council, concluded the enhanced dialogue by thanking the brave women of Afghanistan who had spoken in the room, and also from Afghanistan. In this situation, it was a risk for the women to speak up. The Council has a collective responsibility to protect the human rights of every person, beyond nationality, culture and religion, and, in this case, there was a double responsibility in the case of Afghanistan, as half the population was being systematically deprived of its rights. The Council would keep its attention on this situation. It had to walk the talk, and it would continue to do that. There was consensus from all Members, and this showed the commitment of the international community to the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan.


Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) urges the government of Afghanistan to effectively address the human rights violations highlighted during this dialogue. Violence and discrimination against women and girls in the state continue to be a source of deep concern. We call on all governments, NGOs and responsible authorities to act together in the higher interests of humanity, and to put an end to gender-related persecution and discrimination.  It is imperative for UN member countries and the international community to stand up for Afghan women and girls' human rights in this grave situation. Lastly, GICJ calls on the international community to hold the de facto Taliban government accountable for its actions and urges it to provide special humanitarian assistance to people who are at high risk: such as women and girls, those belonging to minorities, and other high-risk groups.


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