Hundreds of Afghan women’s rights activists urge Biden to take action against killings and kidnappings

File photo: Afghan women march chanting slogans and holding banners during a women’s rights protest in Kabul on January 16, 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)

Hundreds of Afghan women’s rights activists have urged US President Joe Biden to take action against the killing and forced disappearance of Afghan women since the Taliban came to power.

Write a letter, seen by The IndependentExactly six months after the US Embassy in the Afghan capital of Kabul was evacuated and the Taliban seized power, activists have urged Mr Biden to pledge to protect women and girls from violence in the world through a global treaty.

The letter, which was signed by more than 220 Afghan women’s rights activists, as well as former members of Afghan parliament, details how the Taliban attacked a women’s march in Mazar-e-Sharif, a major northern city from Afghanistan, back in September.

“The protesters they arrested were allegedly severely tortured and repeatedly gang-raped,” the letter said.

The letter also refers to foreigners coming to Afghanistan to “own women as property” and young women sent to neighboring countries to be “used as sex slaves”, without providing further details.

“In the face of this bewildering violence, Afghan women activists continue to take to the streets and call on the Taliban to respect women’s rights. This bravery is breathtaking. An international framework that draws a clear line on violence against women and girls will provide activists with essential support,” the letter states.

The Taliban have launched a serious crackdown on women’s human rights since seizing power in Kabul in mid-August as US and British forces retreated. The hardline Islamist group blocked women’s access to work and secondary education, as well as banned them from participating in all sports.

A global agreement or treaty to end violence against women and girls is the “best chance” to keep Afghan women and girls safe, according to the letter to Biden, which will be delivered on Tuesday.

“As you know, many Afghan militants were forced to flee the country last summer after the US withdrawal for fear of reprisals,” the letter said. “Dozens of activists have been forcibly disappeared or killed, wiping out a generation of leaders in six months.”

The letter adds: “We have lost loved ones, our homeland and other women’s rights activists. We want you to champion the campaign for a new global agreement on violence against women and girls.

Judge Najla Ayoubi, who was the first female judge in her province in Afghanistan, said The Independent“As long as Afghan women and girls are used as bargaining chips by the Taliban to satisfy their demands, the conscience of the world should not rest on its two ears. We all have a collective duty to respond to this scourge. A global problem deserves a global solution.

The signatories argued that Mr Biden was “uniquely positioned” to lend his support to a treaty helping women – adding that the president was “previously fighting for US law on violence against women”.

“Your subsequent work on international law on violence against women speaks to your understanding of the distinctly global nature of this problem,” the letter adds.

“Currently, the campaign for a global agreement on violence against women is gaining momentum. As the treaty-making process progresses, the Taliban will face increased international shame, ostracism and pariah if they resist recognizing women’s right to be free from violence.

The letter is signed by men and women, with signatories including Fawzia Kofi, the first woman to serve as Deputy Speaker of the Afghan Parliament, Spozhmai Wardak, former Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs, as well as others who have previously held senior Afghan government positions.

The signatories include Afghans residing in 20 different countries – living in the UK, America, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Australia, India and Pakistan.

Activists noted that about 15% of signatories chose not to reveal their identities due to the “tremendous security risks” facing Afghan militants.

Since taking power in mid-August, the Taliban have imposed widespread restrictions on women and girls in Afghanistan.

They were banned from many jobs, ordered to wear the hijab, and had their education largely restricted beyond the age of 12.

Women’s rights activists in Kabul have staged a series of protests against the rollback of their rights under the Taliban, and reports suggest dozens of Afghan women and their families have been arrested in recent weeks.

The Taliban have repeatedly denied arresting and detaining women, but say authorities have the right “to arrest and detain dissidents or those who break the law”.