A group of around three dozen Human Rights Council-appointed experts have highlighted a “wave of measures” such as barring women from returning to their jobs, requiring a male relative to accompany them in public spaces, prohibiting women from using public transport on their own, as well as imposing a strict dress code on women and girls, to be “a collective punishment of women and girls, grounded on gender-based bias and harmful practices” in Afghanistan.
The policies have also affected the ability of women to work and to make a living, pushing them further into poverty. “Women heads of households are especially hard hit, with their suffering compounded by the devastating consequences of the humanitarian crisis in the country,” the UN human rights experts explained.
The experts also noted the increased risk of exploitation of women and girls, including of trafficking for the purposes of child and forced marriage, as well as sexual exploitation and forced labour.
The Taliban also continues to deny the fundamental right to secondary and tertiary education, arguing that women and men must be segregated and that female student have to abide by a specific dress code. As a result, most girls’ secondary schools remain closed. Most girls who should be attending grades 7-12 are being denied access to school, based solely on their gender.
The experts denounce an “attempt to steadily erase women and girls from public life”, pointing out the closure of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the occupation of the premises of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
According to them, various service providers supporting survivors of gender-based violence have shut down for fear of retribution. The same happened with many women’s shelters. Specialised courts and prosecution units – responsible for enforcing the 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women – have also been discontinued, and many women and social workers are being prevented from working.
The experts have particular concerns for women human rights’ defenders, civil society activists and leaders, judges and prosecutors, security forces, former government employees, and journalists. According to them, all these women are being exposed to harassment, threats of violence and actual bodily harm, and their civic space has been severely eroded. Many have been forced to leave the country as a result.
The experts are also “deeply troubled” by reports of peaceful protesters having often been beaten, ill-treated, threatened, and in confirmed instances, detained arbitrarily.
These concerns are exacerbated in the cases of women from ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities such as the Hazara, Tajik, Hindu and other communities, whose differences or visibility make them even more vulnerable.