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Opening statement by ASG Ilze Brands Kehris on the situation of human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan – OHCHR

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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
12 September 2022
Delivered by
Distinguished President,
Colleagues and friends,
It is a pleasure to welcome you to this enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.
A special welcome goes to the Afghan women and girls participating in today’s dialogue and to those joining us online from Afghanistan and around the world.
To have your voices at the centre of our discussion is critical.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has sought to bring a diversity of voices of Afghan women, inside and outside Afghanistan, to this Council to ensure that you hear their own views and concerns about the issues affecting their lives.
This dialogue will focus on the impact of Taliban policies on the enjoyment by women and girls of fundamental freedoms and rights. It aims to shed light on the challenges faced by certain groups of women, including minority women, and the crucial roles played by women journalists and human rights defenders. We will also highlight the limited access to justice and redress for women and girls.  
Since the Taliban took power in August 2021, they have repeatedly asserted that women’s rights are protected within the framework of Sharia. Still, the written and verbal edicts and decrees issued by the Taliban have deprived women and girls of their human rights, removed women from most spheres of public life and undone women’s agency.
Girls’ secondary schools remain closed with no clear indication of when or if, girls will be allowed to continue their education. Since the Talibans’ rise to power, an estimated 850,000 girls have effectively dropped out of school, placing many at risk of child marriage and sexual and economic exploitation.
Afghanistan is now the only country in the world where girls are denied secondary education. Considering the vital role of education in the life of children and for society as a whole, the Taliban have not only eliminated girls’ development opportunities and their ability to live independent lives in the future but have also set back the opportunity to ensure that Afghanistan is on the path to an equal, just, peaceful and prosperous country.
Restrictions on women’s freedom of movement also have a detrimental effect on the lives of women and girls. For example, a ban on travel without a close male family member (a mahram) severely hinders women from accessing healthcare, particularly sexual and reproductive health care, livelihood and humanitarian aid, and their ability to seek protection and justice or escape from abusive relationships. Women without male family members have been disproportionately affected. Female civil servants have been directed to stay home and some of them even asked to nominate a male family member to replace them.
Women belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minority groups, including Hazaras, Tajik, Hindu and other communities, have been subjected to particular intimidation, harassment and discrimination owing to historical prejudice and negative stereotyping. Other groups of women, including women with disabilities, women without male family members and young women, are also suffering from inter-sectional discrimination.
Moreover, the Taliban have dissolved human rights oversight mechanisms, such as the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and dismantled the specialized courts for gender-based violence and victim support services. Female lawyers’ licenses have been revoked. While gender-based violence and discrimination against women has been chronic, women have nowhere to go to seek justice and redress in today’s Afghanistan. They also face considerable challenges to legal representation and defence before the courts.
Furthermore, with the rapid closing of public spaces for women to express their opinions freely and without fear of reprisals, the role of women journalists and women human rights defenders have become even more crucial. They have courageously continued to carry out their work both inside and outside the country – speaking up and reporting on the institutionalized and widespread oppression of women and girls by the Taliban.
We are appalled by reports of attacks against women journalists and human rights defenders to silence their voices, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, ill-treatment, enforced disappearance and killings. We are not aware of any investigations being initiated on such cases, and no one responsible for such crimes have been brought to justice.
I hope that today’s dialogue will translate into concrete action and demonstrate to the very courageous women activists present today that the international community truly stands with them. We cannot stand by in the face of this misuse of religion, instrumentalized by the Taliban to systematically oppress and discriminate against women and girls.
Today is an opportunity for this Council to reaffirm and act upon its unwavering commitment to the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by all women and girls in Afghanistan.  
Thank you.
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