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Afghanistan: Women’s full participation in public and political life is crucial

GENEVA (15 September 2021) - Women’s full and equal participation in public and political life in Afghanistan is essential to addressing the multiple crises confronting the country and must be seen as a guarantee of their human rights, UN experts* said today.

The experts specifically pointed to women’s right to work, education, housing and health, to freedom of expression and their ability to participate in cultural life without discrimination.

“We are deeply concerned at the rapid rolling back of women’s rights on full display to the world, notably in the area of women’s political and public life, with the Taliban’s formation of an all-male interim administration and the imposition of restrictions on women in public spaces,” the experts said in a statement.

“Such backsliding is not only in total contradiction to the country’s international commitments and in direct contravention of the country’s international legal obligations, it is also unsustainable and harmful to the overall peace-building and development process of the country,” they said.

The experts pointed to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), to which Afghanistan is a party, which requires States to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country. It also states women must have equal rights to participate in the formulation and implementation of government policy, the right to hold public office and perform public functions at all levels of government including the executive, judicial, administrative and other governing and key decision-making bodies.

“As drastic changes unfold in Afghanistan, the State continues to bear a legal obligation under international human rights law to guarantee the human rights of women,” they said. “The Taliban in control of the territory is obliged to respect and protect human rights, as the duty to respect, protect and fulfil human rights obligations does not change every time new authorities take power.” The duty applies regardless of States’ political, economic and cultural systems.

Afghan women have demonstrated that they are active agents in peace-building and recovery processes, the experts added. “Today they are at the forefront of the protests demanding equality and freedom, in fearless defiance of threats of violence and severe beatings,” they said. Women in politics in Afghanistan are being targeted for a number of factors, including their gender. They are being subjected to violence to discourage and restrict their political participation

“The international community must listen to the voices of Afghan women who are rightfully demanding a safe and secure environment for their full and equal participation in the country’s public and political life and a role in shaping its future.

“The backsliding and regression on women’s and girls’ rights in times of transition that we have observed in other places, especially when women are excluded from decision-making, is being replicated in Afghanistan,” the experts added. “The protection of women’s and girls’ human rights must be central to all laws, policies, political processes and institutional practice.

“This flagrant exclusion of women in the public and political life of Afghanistan must be urgently rectified at this critical moment. The primacy of women’s human rights to equality must prevail in any claimed clash with what are purported to be ‘traditional’, historical, religious interpretations or cultural attitudes that are inconsistent with their human rights.”

ENDS

*UN experts: Melissa Upreti (Chair), Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Vice-Chair), Elizabeth BroderickIvana Radačić, and Meskerem Geset Techane, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Ms. Karima BennouneSpecial Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Reem AlsalemSpecial Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Ahmed ShaheedSpecial Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mary LawlorSpecial Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; Mr. Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Hannah Wu (hannah.wu@un.org/+41 22 917 9152) or write to wgdiscriminationwomen@ohchr.org.
For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact: Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 22 917 7578 / jlaurence@ohchr.org).
Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter@UN_SPExperts.

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