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UN Asked to Declare Afghan Apartheid   09/27 06:21


   UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N.'s most powerful body must support 
governments seeking to legally declare the intensifying crackdown by 
Afghanistan's Taliban rulers on women and girls "gender apartheid," the head of 
the U.N. agency promoting gender equality said Tuesday.

   Sima Bahous, executive director of UN Women, told the Security Council that 
more than 50 increasingly dire Taliban edicts are being enforced with more 
severity, including by male family members. That is exacerbating mental health 
issues and suicidal thoughts especially among young women and is shrinking 
women's decision-making even in their own homes.

   "They tell us that they are prisoners living in darkness, confined to their 
homes without hope or future," she said.

   Under international law, apartheid is defined as a system of legalized 
racial segregation that originated in South Africa. But a growing consensus 
among international experts, officials and activists says apartheid can also 
apply to gender in cases like that of Afghanistan, where women and girls face 
systematic discrimination.

   "We ask you to lend your full support to an intergovernmental process to 
explicitly codify gender apartheid in international law," Bahous urged the 
15-member council, including its five permanent members: the United States, 
Russia, China, Britain and France.

   There is no existing international law to respond to "mass, state-sponsored 
gender oppression," Bahous said. But she said the Taliban's "systemic and 
planned assault on women's rights ... must be named, defined and proscribed in 
our global norms so that we can respond appropriately."

   The Taliban took power in August 2021 during the final weeks of the U.S. and 
NATO forces' pullout from Afghanistan after 20 years of war. As they did during 
their previous rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban gradually 
reimposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, barring girls 
from school beyond the sixth grade and women from almost all jobs, public 
spaces, gyms and recently closing beauty salons.

   The Security Council meeting on U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' 
latest report on Afghanistan took place on the final day of the annual meeting 
of world leaders at the 193-member U.N. General Assembly.

   On Wednesday, Zabihullah Mujahid, the main spokesman for the Taliban 
government, slammed the council meeting for focusing on domestic Afghan matters 
of "women's education and their work" instead of issues such as security, peace 
and stability.

   "It was necessary to discuss the end of the blacklist in the United Nations, 
the removal of sanctions, the release of seized assets," Mujahid said on X, 
formerly known as Twitter. He said the U.N. gathering should also have 
discussed "the recognition of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" as the 
Taliban call their government.

   No country has recognized the Taliban, and the assembly's credentials 
committee hasn't either, primarily over its effort to relegate women to their 
homes and failure to form an inclusive government. This has left U.N. 
recognition with the now-ousted previous government led by Ashraf Ghani. For 
the third year, its representative did not speak at the high-level gathering.

   Bahous said that over the past year, UN Women collaborated with the U.N. 
political mission in Afghanistan known as UNAMA and the U.N. International 
Office for Migration to interview over 500 Afghan women.

   Among their key findings, she said:

   -- 46% think the Taliban should not be recognized under any circumstances;

   -- 50% think the Taliban should only be recognized after it restores women's 
and girls' rights to education, employment, and participation in government.

   The women interviewed said the dramatic shrinking of their influence on 
decision-making, not just at the national or provincial level but also in their 
communities and homes, is driven by increased poverty, decreasing financial 
contribution and "the Taliban's imposition of hyper-patriarchal gender norms," 
Bahous said.

   In a grim sign of women's growing isolation, she said, only 22% of the women 
interviewed reported meeting with women outside their immediate family at least 
once a week, and a majority reported worsened relations with other members of 
their family and community.

   Bahous said the restrictions on women have led to an increase in child 
marriage and child labor, and an increase in mental health issues.

   "As the percentage of women employed continues to drop, 90% of young women 
respondents report bad or very bad mental health, and suicide and suicidal 
ideation is everywhere," she said.

   Roza Otunbayeva, the U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, 
welcomed the recent visit of a group of Islamic scholars from the Organization 
of Islamic Cooperation's member nations to Afghanistan to focus on girls' 
education, women's rights and the need for inclusive governance.

   The scholars stressed that these requirements are "integral to Islamic 
governance around the world," she said. "We urge that these visits continue. 
They are part of a vital conversation between the de facto authorities and the 
international community helpfully mediated by the Islamic world."

   Otunbayeva told reporters afterward that compared to the last visit of 
Islamic scholars, this time they left Afghanistan "quite satisfied."

   "We'll see what will be resolved" at the upcoming International Conference 
on Women in Islam, she said. That conference, co-sponsored by the OIC and Saudi 
Arabia, will take place in the Saudi city of Jeddah in November.

   The U.N. envoy was asked whether any change in the Taliban's hard-line 
policies on women and government functioning is possible as long as its leader, 
Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, makes the final decisions.

   "He's the producer of decisions," Otunbayeva replied. She said she heard 
from a Cabinet member that more than 90% of its members support allowing girls 
to study, but as soon as such views get to the southern city of Kandahar, where 
Akhundzada is based, they are blocked.

   "So, far he is unreachable," Otunbayeva said. She said she tried to bring 
the entire ambassadorial corps to Kandahar for meetings with the provincial 
governor and others, but the meeting was canceled.

   The U.N. envoy said the mission is in constant contact with Taliban 
officials in the capital, Kabul, "even as we continue to disagree profoundly 
and express these disagreements."

   Recently, Otunbayeva said, provincial councils composed of religious clerics 
and tribal elders have been created in each of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, 
aiming to provide accountability and listening to local grievances, but they 
also report to the Taliban leader.

   It's too early to judge their performance, but Otunbayeva noted that the 
councils for the predominantly Shiite provinces of Bamiyan and Daikundi have no 
Shiite members.

   She appealed to donors to support the $3.2 billion humanitarian appeal for 
the country, which has received just $872 million, about 28% of the needed 

   Many programs have been forced to close just as winter is approaching and 
people are most in need, Otunbayeva said. "This means that 15.2 million Afghans 
now facing acute food insecurity could be pushed towards famine in the coming 

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