Zonta Advocacy: Report from Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67), New York, 6th -17th March 2023, Afghanistan side event.

Megan Radavich and I (Renee Coppock) attended the side event presented by the Afghanistan Mission to the UN, “Promoting Women’s and Girls’ Equal Social, Economic and Political Rights in Afghanistan.” The session included 6 women’s rights activists from Afghanistan. The panel was moderated by Nasar Faiq.

The speakers gave first hand accounts about the atrocities committed against women and girls by the Taliban. In addition to women protesters being beaten, rapes, imprisoned and murdered, women and girls have been systematically wiped out of the public eye.

Lima Anwari reiterated that girls have no education under Taliban rule. Communities want the women and girls educated and believe education is a basic human right.

Fatiha Easar is an attorney and human rights activist. She stated that prior to Taliban rule, there were laws protecting women from gender-based violence and allowing women to complete a full education. The Taliban suspended these laws. Women are forced into early marriage, trafficked, raped and tortured, both physically and mentally. Women have also been sold in public. The Taliban seize property belonging to women and force them to leave their homes. Countless women have been arrested for protesting. She urged the UN and all nations to recognize the Taliban as terrorists and to implement a travel ban on all Taliban members. If women cannot leave their homes, the Taliban should not leave the country. She also asked the UN to investigate the Taliban human rights violations and war crimes. She pleaded for intervention to establish a democracy. The UN and G7 States must recognize the plight of Afghan women as gender apartheid.

Fatema Ahmadi stated that their are no women in government or NGOs under the Taliban. Some women are still working for NGOs online, but are risking their lives. Women also need home visits from women human rights supporters. Those women banned from NGOs are traumatized. There is also no freedom of religion or inter-faith marriages. There is no one listening to women about private or public violations, so the Taliban are destroying art, music and the Afghan culture. There has been no international entity checking on the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhist culture. Fatema talked about how Afghanistan is the only country in the world which forces women to cover their entire face. UNESCO needs to pay attention to all of this. This is not just about Afghanistan, but freedom of religion around the world. The Taliban has re-interpreted religion. They cannot be allowed to erase history.

Mariam Atari, co-founder of the Feminine Perspective Campaign, told how the Taliban has erased 20 years of Afghan women’s achievements. They beat and torture women protestors and are erasing women from the public view. Women are responding by risking their lives for all Afghan women. She requested the support of everyone from around the world to help the Afghan and Iranian women. We need to amplify the voices of the women’s rights activists in those countries and protect the protestors and activists. If necessary, countries should help evacuate the activists who are in danger so that they are in a safe and secure place.

Yalda Rohan stated that the current plight of the Afghan women is the largest failure of the international community. The Taliban leaders have not complied with any terms of the agreement for turnover of the government, but there has not been any severe repercussions. Violence and hunger have become part of the everyday lives of Afghan women, and human rights defenders are at increased risk. These women flee to other countries with no support and no papers, often to be deported back to Afghanistan. This is not right. The world needs to prioritize re-establishment of basic human rights and democracy.

Asila Wardack spoke about the 88 directives passed by the Taliban —84 are against women’s rights. When she worked at the UN, she was proud to organize women from Afghanistan to show their achievements. Now, she enters the UN with extreme sorrow. Afghan women are not just facing lack of education and work, but thousands of other issues on a daily basis. It has become impossible for a single or widowed Afghan woman to support her family. Because so many issues exist, it is difficult for UN Women to determine which issues should receive priority. What we must remember is that Afghan women need to tell their own stories—no one can tell the stoic or them. They need a seat at the bargaining table. Human rights cannot be used as a bargaining chip.

These women were very passionate, knowledgeable, and presented compelling information for the UN to seriously consider.

Megan Radavich is Assistant Executive Director, Programs and Advocacy at Zonta International Headquarters.

Reneé Coppock is a Zonta International Board member and senior attorney. While most known for her work in bylaws and resolutions, Reneé has increased advocacy within her district by focusing on topics such as human trafficking, inherent bias, indigenous women, the #MeToo movement and the 16 Days of Activism.

Megan Radavich