Lauding the Taliban Despite Glaring Human Rights Abuses Normalizes Their Violence

Praise by foreign officials only affirms Afghan women’s concern about the normalization of the Taliban’s violations of human rights.

Parwaneh Ebrahim Khel—an Afghan woman who was arrested by the Taliban in Kabul from Jan. 19 to Feb 11, 2022 and was held captive by the Taliban for about a month—demonstrates outside the Foreign Ministry against the Taliban on Aug. 15, 2023 in Berlin, Germany. Women in Afghanistan have experienced a steady erosion of their rights and freedoms. (Aref Karimi / Getty Images)

Feridun Sinirlioğlu, the United Nations’ special coordinator for Afghan affairs, said last week that “good progress had been made in Afghanistan, especially in the field of security,” and that “stability has been established,” at a meeting with Maulvi Abdul Salam Hanafi, the Taliban’s deputy prime minister for administrative affairs.

He said there is a “misunderstanding” between the international community and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which needs resolving. It is unclear what this “misunderstanding” entails. If gender apartheid is a misunderstanding, then it should be immediately recognized by the United Nations so the Taliban can be held accountable for their actions against Afghan women and girls. 

He expressed that Afghanistan deserves to live in peace with its neighbors and be an active member of the international community. Sinirlioğlu appears to ignore the context behind why the international community does not currently recognize the government in Afghanistan.

Instituting a non-democratically elected government, implementing brutal laws, and discriminating against over 50 percent of the population does not grant the de facto government the right to be legitimately recognized by the international community, unless something changes.

“The Islamic Emirate seeks positive interaction with the world in an atmosphere of mutual respect and interaction,” Hanafi said, “and such meetings between the officials of the Islamic Emirate and the United Nations aim to resolve misunderstandings. It is good, and issues should be resolved through dialogue and discussion.”

Such dialogue and discussion also include the various efforts made by the international community to urge Taliban officials to relinquish policies of gender apartheid and persecution of ethnic minorities. Observing such suggestions, including fundamental human rights, could foster this “mutual respect and interaction” that the Taliban desires. 

In carrying out such “dialogue and discussion,” it is important to clarify statements made during this meeting.

Hanafi said that complete security has been ensured in Afghanistan. Still, the TTP and ISIL-KP—two known terrorist organizations—have been conducting activities from Afghanistan at an increased rate over the past two years.

He claims administrative corruption has been prevented. This is an administration that funnels aid away from its citizens towards its officials and is ethnically homogenous, not reflective of Afghanistan’s diverse population.

According to Hanafi, “Amnesty has been declared and remains in force.” Afghans who worked under the previous government have been detained, arrested and killed arbitrarily. Their families are finding bodies months later. Those in exile would cite fear of persecution as a reason for why they cannot return to Afghanistan—demonstrating the efficacy of such amnesty. 

Women’s Issues Should Remain Top Priority

Reading about meetings between Taliban officials and representatives of the U.N. and other countries is vital to keeping this issue current, but listening to Afghan women is equally, and arguably, more important. Praise by foreign officials in any capacity only affirms Afghan women’s concern about the normalization of the Taliban and a complete neglect of the violations of human rights by the international community. 

Afghan women protest the Taliban ban on women accessing university education on December 22, 2022, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Stringer / Getty Images)

In a survey conducted by U.N. Women and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Afghan women are twice as likely to want the international community to engage more on gender equality and women’s rights issues than on economic development or humanitarian assistance. Almost all women consulted shared that U.N. recognition of the Taliban should not happen under any circumstances or that it should only occur under specific conditions contingent on improving women’s rights. This last part is crucial.

Access to education has remained the top priority since August 2021. Although highlighted as critical to the lives of women and girls, improvements to women’s rights and economic conditions have been seen as secondary. Women have consistently emphasized the importance of educational outcomes for gender equality and Afghanistan’s long-term development. 

In the past year, Afghan women have consistently called for international pressure on the de facto authorities through sanctions and direct and indirect advocacy. Women have also urged international entities to include Afghan women in negotiations with the Taliban, particularly on women’s rights. The United Nations, which has expressed its dedication to the rights of Afghans, must demonstrate a genuine commitment to listening to Afghan women. 

Afghan women are twice as likely to want the international community to engage more on gender equality and women’s rights issues than on economic development or humanitarian assistance.

For a peaceful and just Afghanistan, one Afghan woman told UNAMA, “I want to live in such a society where I have the freedom to say what I want to say, to stand on my own feet, and to empower myself so that I can serve other people.” 

Below are some basic recommendations from the survey on how to help Afghan women living under gender apartheid. 

  1. Continue political and economic sanctions against the Taliban, including by not granting exemptions to the travel ban.
  2. Increase engagement with the Taliban on gender equality and women’s rights, including by engaging community and religious leaders in awareness and advocacy efforts.
  3. Support social media campaigns to shift social opinions and push back against the re-emergence and solidification of regressive gender norms.
  4. Advocate for women’s political participation in shura/councils and local governance structures and create a women’s platform for political participation.
  5. Focus on women’s legal and physical protection to participate in politics as well as their empowerment at the household level to increase influence on decision-making.
  6. Increase women’s access to the Internet, electricity and communications channels.
  7. Continue advocating for women’s uninhibited right to work while simultaneously creating jobs for them through online platforms, targeted both at building and using existing skills.
  8. Identify alternative ways of ensuring that girls and women have access to literacy and numeracy courses.
  9. Support initiatives that provide counseling and psychosocial services in person and/or through online platforms and over the phone.
  10. Support initiatives that provide international scholarships and safe migration options for women and girls to study and work overseas.

Up next:

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Anselma Ellingwood is a rising junior at Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City and an intern at the Feminist Majority Foundation working on the Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls.