Gulf envoys stress women’s rights in meeting with Taliban FM

Ambassadors from Gulf countries meet with Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi as he seeks funding to tackle a dire humanitarian crisis.

A girl sits in front of a bakery in the crowd with Afghan women waiting to receive bread in Kabul
The Taliban has effectively barred women from working in several government sectors and most girls’ secondary schools remain shut [File: Ali Khara/Reuters]

Ambassadors from Gulf states have underscored the need to guarantee Afghan women’s rights to work and study as they met with their Taliban counterpart in the Qatari capital, Doha.

Meeting on Monday with Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, diplomats from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) stressed the necessity of a national reconciliation plan that “respects basic freedoms and rights, including women’s right to work and education”, read a statement from the bloc.

The Taliban tweeted pictures of the smiling foreign minister entering Monday’s meeting with representatives from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But diplomats said no promises were made by Afghan officials inside.

The Taliban, which seized power in Afghanistan in August of last year and toppled a Western-backed government, is urgently seeking to unfreeze billions of dollars of assets abroad and get sanctions lifted as it struggles to cope with a dire humanitarian crisis.

Late January, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that more than half of all Afghans face “extreme levels of hunger” with “some families selling their babies to purchase food”.

But Western powers have linked the release of humanitarian aid to the improvements of human rights, especially the ones of women.

While the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh rule that characterised its first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, provincial authorities have imposed several restrictions on women, issuing regular guidelines on how they should live.

The new authorities have effectively barred women from working in several government sectors and most girls’ secondary schools remain shut. However, the Taliban has pledged that girls of all ages will be returning to schools by March.

The Taliban has also issued an order that women cannot travel between cities and towns unless accompanied by a close male relative. The group has posted posters in many shops across Kabul and in other cities encouraging women to wear the all-covering burqa, though it has clarified that the dress code is not mandatory.

No country has yet recognised the Taliban government and the latest talks came only days after United States President Joe Biden said that $7bn held in US banks would be split between a fund to aid Afghanistan and to compensate victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

European governments and international financial institutions are also holding back billions in aid.

During Monday’s meeting, the GCC diplomats also raised fears that “terrorist groups may be able to launch attacks from Afghanistan’s territory against other countries”.

They insisted that the country must not be exploited to fuel the illegal drugs trade.

Muttaqi, who is to hold a key meeting with European nations and other international representatives on Wednesday, made no comment after the meeting.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies