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UN says 'huge step backwards' for women after Afghanistan trip

The Taliban have squeezed women out of almost all areas of public life since it seized power in August 2021

UN says 'huge step backwards' for women after Afghanistan trip

Afghan female students take entrance exams at Kabul University in Kabul on Oct. 13, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

Published: January 21, 2023 06:03 AM GMT

Updated: January 21, 2023 06:07 AM GMT

Apparent exemptions granted by the Taliban to harsh restrictions placed on Afghan women are not sufficient to reverse the "huge step backwards" for their rights, the United Nations said Friday as top officials wrapped up a trip to the country.

The Taliban seized power in August 2021, promising a softer version of their brutal 1996-2001 rule that was infamous for human rights abuses.

But they have squeezed women out of almost all areas of public life, recently banning them from secondary and higher education, public sector work and from visiting parks and baths.

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"It's very clear that what we've seen in terms of basic rights for women and girls is a huge step backwards," Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman to the UN secretary-general, told reporters.

"And so having a couple of steps forwards after that is not sufficient," he said.

The UN delegation -- which arrived Monday and includes Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and Sima Bahous, executive secretary of UN Women -- met with Taliban officials during a four-day visit to Kabul and Kandahar.

At the end of December, Afghanistan's hardline Islamist rulers banned women from working in non-governmental organizations, leading several to suspend their activities in the country.

Some, however, were able to partially resume activity after receiving assurances from authorities that women would still be able to work in the health sector.

Although there have been recent exemptions for humanitarian organizations "to continue -- and in some cases resume -- operations," these "remain limited to few sectors and activities," a UN statement said.

Deputy Secretary-General Mohammed said in the statement that: "While we recognize the important exemptions made, these restrictions present Afghan women and girls with a future that confines them in their own homes, violating their rights and depriving the communities of their services."

The delegation also met with various key actors from civil society and humanitarian organizations.

"We have witnessed extraordinary resilience. Afghan women left us no doubt of their courage and refusal to be erased from public life," Bahous said in the statement.

The visit to Afghanistan followed a series of high-level consultations in several countries across the region and in the Gulf, Asia and Europe.

During these meetings, the organization of an international conference on women and girls in the Muslim world in March 2023 was agreed upon in principle, the UN said.

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