The US special envoy on Afghanistan has met the Taliban’s acting foreign minister in the Qatari capital Doha and stressed international opposition to the group’s expanding curbs on women and girls.
“Girls must be back in school, women free to move & work w/o restrictions for progress to normalised relations,” US Special Representative on Afghanistan Thomas West wrote on Twitter on Saturday after meeting Amir Khan Mutaqi.
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Since returning to power last August, the Taliban has imposed a slew of restrictions on civil society, many focused on reining in the rights of women and girls, that are reminiscent of their last rule in the 1990s.
Girls’ schools are yet to open, more than eight months since the Taliban came to power. The group has insisted that it wants girls to get back to school, but justified the delay on reasons ranging from infrastructure to lack of resources due to the economic crisis.
When the Taliban took power in August, the armed group promised to uphold the rights of girls and women. But its actions since have worried the international community.
Earlier this month, Afghanistan’s supreme leader ordered women to cover up fully in public, including their faces, ideally with the traditional burqa.
1/4 Together with @SE_AfghanWGH, spoke with Taliban’s Amir Khan Mutaqi this morning. Conveyed unified int’l opposition to ongoing and expanding restrictions on women and girls’ rights and role in society.
— U.S. Special Representative Thomas West (@US4AfghanPeace) May 21, 2022
During the last few months, Taliban leaders, particularly from the Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, have announced many new restrictions, even as criticism and international pressure mounts against them.
In December, the ministry, which replaced the Afghan Ministry of Women Affairs, imposed restrictions on women from travelling further than 72km (45 miles) without a close male relative.
This restriction was further expanded to include travelling abroad, and several solo women travellers were reportedly stopped from boarding flights. Similar bans were also introduced in several healthcare centres across the country, forbidding women to access healthcare without a mahram (male chaperone).
In January, a group of 36 UN human rights experts said that Taliban leaders in Afghanistan are institutionalising large-scale and systematic gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.
A surprise U-turn in March, in which the group shuttered girls’ high schools on the morning they were due to open, drew the ire of the international community and prompted the US to cancel planned meetings on easing the country’s financial crisis.
A Ministry of Education notice said on March 23 that schools for girls would be closed until a plan was drawn up in accordance with Islamic law and Afghan culture, according to Bakhtar News Agency, a government news agency.
West also said that the two discussed economic stabilisation in Afghanistan and concerns about attacks on civilians.
The country is teetering on the verge of economic disaster after the West froze Afghanistan’s assets held abroad and cut off aid.
“Dialogue will continue in support of Afghan people and our national interests,” West, the US envoy, said in his post.
The country has been reeling from a humanitarian crisis with more than half of the population facing hunger. The Taliban has struggled to revive the aid-dependent economy, which is in freefall due to sanctions and exclusion from international financial institutions.
In December, the Biden administration issued what it called “broad authorisations” to ensure that the United Nations, American government agencies and aid groups can provide humanitarian relief to Afghanistan without running foul of sanctions against the Taliban.