Leading UN woman appeals to Muslims: Bringing the Taliban into the 21st century


The most senior woman at the United Nations said on Wednesday she used everything in her “toolbox” in meetings with Taliban ministers to try to reverse their crackdown. for Afghan women and girls, and she called on Muslim countries to help the Taliban transition from the “13th century”. century to the 21st century.”

Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed, a former Nigerian Cabinet Minister and a Muslim, said at a press conference that four Taliban ministers, including the foreign minister and a deputy prime minister, had said “no a scenario” during meetings with her delegation last week.

She said officials have sought to highlight things they say they have done and aren’t recognised – and what they call an effort to create an environment that protects women.

“The definition of their protection, I would say, is our oppression,” said Mohammed.

Those meetings in the Afghan capital Kabul and the group’s birthplace in Kandahar were followed by a visit this week by UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths and other heads of large aid group. They are urging the Taliban to reverse last month’s decree banning Afghan women from working for national and international NGOs.

Speaking from Kabul on Wednesday, Griffiths said the focus of the visit was for the Taliban to understand that it was very important to set up and run aid operations and allow women to work in them. The mission’s message, he said, is simple – that the ban makes the work of groups more difficult.

“What I hear from everyone I meet (is) that they understand the needs and work rights of Afghan women and that they will be working on a set of guidelines that we will issue in due course. going forward, will meet those requirements,” Griffiths said.

Mohammed said her delegation, including the head of UN Women, which promotes gender equality and women’s rights, pushed back against the Taliban, even as they started talking about humanitarian principles.

“We remind them that in humanitarian principles, non-discrimination is an important part … and that they are removing women from the workplace,” she said.

As a Sunni Muslim, like Taliban officials, Mohammed said she has told ministers that when it comes to preventing girls’ education after sixth grade and depriving women of their rights, they are not religious. Reviving and harming people.

In one setting, Mohammed said, she was told by a Taliban official, whom she did not name, that “my being there talking to them was haram (prohibited by Islamic law). She noted that these conservatives wouldn’t look directly at a woman, so she said she played “that game” and didn’t look directly at them either.

“I gave as much as I thought they gave, and we pushed,” she said.

Mohammed said the Taliban had said that of course the rights taken away from women and girls would return, so the UN mission urged a timeline. “What they’ll say is ‘soon’,” she said.

The Taliban came to power for a second time in August 2021, in the final weeks of the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan after 20 years of war.

Mohammed said the Taliban, which has not been recognized by a single country, wants international recognition and Afghanistan’s seat at the United Nations, currently held by the former government led by Ashraf Ghani.

“Recognition is a lever that we have and we should embrace,” said Mohammed.

Before arriving in Kabul, Mohammed’s delegation visited Muslim-majority countries, including Indonesia, Turkey, Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, where she said there was widespread support against ban by the Taliban.

She said there was a proposal for the United Nations and the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation to hold an international conference in mid-March on women in the Muslim world.

“It is very important that Muslim countries come together,” she said. “We have to fight in the region and we need to be bold and courageous because women’s rights are so important.”

Griffiths, the undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, and his delegation, which included the heads of Care International and Save the Children US, did not go to Kandahar, where a ban on Afghan women working for organizations NGO issued by order of the reclusive Taliban supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzdaza.

Griffiths acknowledges Akhundzada’s top position but says there are important voices in Taliban officials around the country.

“I don’t think it is a simple matter to hold one person accountable and change an ordinance,” he said. “This ordinance has a collective responsibility and I hope we are building a collective will to make up for its ban.”

Save the Children’s Janti Soeripto says there have been meetings with eight ministries over two days and some among the Taliban seem to understand the need to reverse the ban.

“There was resistance, they didn’t want to be seen turning around,” she said. “If people don’t see the consequences as intuitively as we do, people will feel less inclined.”

Mohammed said it is important that the UN and its partners do more work in the roughly 20 provinces of Afghanistan that tend to be more progressive.

“A lot of things we had to deal with was how we traveled with the Taliban from the 13th to the 21st century,” she said. “It’s been a journey. So it’s not just overnight.”

She said the Taliban told her delegation they were introducing legislation against gender-based violence, which she called “a big plus” because rape and other attacks were on the rise in Afghanistan.

“I want to keep the Taliban from supporting the enforcement of that law,” she said.

Mohammed said it was important to maximize any leverage available to bring the Taliban back to the principles that underpin participation in the “international family”.

“Nobody opposes an Islamic state or Sharia (the law),” she said. “But all of this cannot be reframed into extremism and harmful views of women and girls. This is completely unacceptable, and we should keep the limit.”


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