Afghan women call for global attention and action to meet the needs of women and girls in Afghanistan

On the sidelines of the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, Afghan women experts came together in New York to discuss how best international mechanisms can be more effective in upholding the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.

“We are urging the international community to step in and support the women's rights activists,” said Najla Ayoubi, a former judge from Afghanistan and the Chief of Coalition and Global Programmes at Every Woman Treaty.

Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the Taliban have threatened the fundamental rights and freedoms of women and girls, with civil society leaders being particularly at risk. The latest data from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reveals an escalation of extrajudicial killings, disappearances of former government employees and the detention of women’s rights activists and journalists.

“Afghan women refuse to give up their right to live free and equal lives, and we stand with them,” said UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous. “But they cannot do it alone. The international community must continue to intentionally and directly invest in women’s civil society and support the rebuilding of the women’s movement.”

In her keynote remarks, Sophie, Countess of Wessex from the United Kingdom added that while the global community has shifted attention to the invasion of Ukraine, the crisis in Afghanistan can not be forgotten.

“The rights of women and girls have worsened, and Afghanistan is facing a desperate, humanitarian and economic crisis. And that there is severe food insecurity,” she said. “It is so hard to imagine how much has changed for so many in so little time. Where once there was hope with women playing a central role in society, there is now hunger, destitution, and violence.”

With the upcoming renewal of the UNAMA mandate and appointment of a new Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan this month, it is a key time to hear from, and listen to, Afghan women on how these mechanisms can address their lived realities and enhance protections for women, girls, minorities and marginalized groups in the country.

“The mandate of UNAMA needs a human rights-based approach, where human rights of women and historically marginalized and vulnerable ethnic and religious groups are not traded, nor violations tempered down,” said Horia Mosadiq, an Afghan woman and founder and director of Safety and Risk Mitigation Organization.

The current mandate of UNAMA prioritizes humanitarian assistance, development and governance, fighting corruption and protecting human rights. The upcoming renewal is a critical moment to ensure a gender-responsive, fully resourced, comprehensive approach, which includes capacity to monitor, investigate and report on human rights abuses and leverage women’s contributions to development and peacebuilding.

“The guiding principle of our presence is to support the Afghan people. It is important that the special political mission be empowered to support inclusive dialogue with the focus to promote participatory governance,” said UN Under Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo. “It is also critical for the mission to have a robust human rights monitoring and advocacy role. This is particularly pertinent for the advancement of the women, peace and security agenda, and to help bring about tangible improvements in the lives of women, girls and all Afghans.”

During the event, which was hosted by the Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan (co-chaired by the United Kingdom and Qatar) and the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, in collaboration with UN Women, Afghan women also emphasized the importance of access to justice and called for the international community to support more investigation, documenting and fact-finding, as well as more support to marginalized communities.

“The most at-risk groups in Afghanistan are the most likely to face barriers in accessing aid,” said Yalda Royan, an Afghan woman and consultant for the World Bank in Kabul and the country technical team lead at VOICE Amplified. “There must be an equitable humanitarian aid distribution.”