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Urgent debate on the situation of the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan

50th Sesssion of the UN Human Rights Council - HRW Oral Intervention

An Afghan girl reads in a classroom at Tajrobawai Girls High School, in Herat, Afghanistan, November 25, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

I’ve spent recent months interviewing women and girls in Afghanistan about their lives under the Taliban. It is hard to convey to you the level of despair they feel, but I will try.  

Farzana is 15. She told me: “I am so hopeless for the future…I think the situation is not going to get better. When I see the Taliban, I think the Taliban will never change… I think they’ll get seven or eight years of our lives at least… You cannot dream in the presence of the Taliban.”  

Farzana dreams of leaving Afghanistan. That is the only way she can find hope. 

The Taliban’s ban on girls’ secondary school is unspeakable. It is unthinkable to me—as an Afghan woman whose parents fought desperately for me to get an education, as an Afghan woman whose life was changed completely by education—that another generation of girls are having their lives stolen from them by being shut out of school.  

But education is not the only right under attack. It’s access to employment, to health care, the right to live free from violence, to be represented politically, to protest, to raise your voice, to play sports or music. It’s the right to leave your home and move freely—a right without which other rights are hard to enjoy. 

The situation in Afghanistan is the most serious women’s rights crisis in the world. It is the most serious women’s rights crisis since 1996, when the Taliban took over the last time.  

The world must respond with more than statements of deep concern. We need a concrete plan and concrete steps, including intense monitoring of the situation by the UN, accountability, and practical responses like travel bans on Taliban leaders implicated in the worst abuses, and we need it now.   

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