The EU’s role in restoring and protecting women’s rights in Afghanistan

The second Afghan Women Leaders Forum (AWLF), initiated and supported by the EU and the European External Action Service, was held on 19 and 20 May in Brussels. AWLF has brought together a wide variety of Afghan women, including civil society and political leaders, activists, lawyers, journalists and representatives of the women’s movement, both inside and outside the Afghanistan.

Nazila Jamshidi, specialist in human rights and gender justice, participated in the forum and shared her ideas on the current EU policy towards Afghanistan and its crucial role in restoring women’s human rights .

After two decades of progress towards women’s freedom and human rights, the burqa, the garment covering a woman’s entire body with only a fine-mesh screen for vision, has once again become the symbol of women’s oppression. women in Afghanistan.

Nine months after Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesperson for the Taliban, publicly promised that the rights of women under Taliban control would be protected, women have increasingly been coerced into their every human right.

By replacing the Ministry of Women’s Affairs with the Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Bamyan prison, they exposed their animosity towards any instrument likely to promote and protect the rights of women. and eliminating gender-based violence, seen as the legacy of an Afghan constitution supported by the occupiers.

Besides denying women’s rights to work, pursue education, access to opportunities, peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, the Taliban’s repressive edicts have continually targeted women.

Banning women from traveling without a Mahram and imposing compulsory hijab to wear the burqa from head to toe are recent ways to intensify the Taliban’s assault on women’s rights.

The image of Khatera Ahmadi, a TOLO News presenter who was forced to cover her face and wear a black hijab, illustrates the strain and suffering of an estimated 20 million women and girls in the country – half of the Afghan population estimated at 40 million.

Undoubtedly, the crushing misogyny of the Taliban did not begin nor will it end with the imposition of the burqa. A burqa is only a visual or linguistic synecdoche of the fate of Afghan women.

The European External Action Service (EEAS) and the protection of human rights

Gender equality is one of the EU’s common values ​​and standards. The EU has recognized the promotion of gender equality as a principle, an objective and a vital task.

It was first identified as a cross-cutting issue in the 2005 European Consensus on Development, which defines women’s empowerment as key to development.

In 2010, the EU adopted the EU Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development — the operational document which aims to strengthen policy coordination and implementation agreed EU gender.

In December 2020, the Council adopted a decision and a regulation establishing a global human rights sanctions regime. The EU targets individuals, entities and bodies responsible for their involvement in serious human rights violations and abuses around the world, wherever they occur.

Following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban in August 2021, the EU made it clear that any future development assistance to Afghanistan will be highly dependent on compliance with international standards and the human rights legal framework, including including the rights of women and girls.

During the first and second meetings of the Afghan Women Leaders Forum (AWLF) in Brussels in March and May 2022 – the meetings initiated and facilitated by the EU – the EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Thomas Niklasson, noted that the EU has taken a principled position in favor of the protection of women’s rights and said: “We are determined and committed to continue supporting women and girls in Afghanistan and beyond, in line with our values ​​and principles”.

AWLF includes a wide variety of Afghan women; civil society and political leaders and activists, businesswomen, lawyers, journalists and representatives of the women’s movement, both inside and outside Afghanistan.

These meetings highlighted the importance of dialogue and engagement with all relevant local, regional and international actors and the exploration of different models of dialogue that will enable Afghan women to influence and play a meaningful role in the future of the country.

The EU must remain engaged

Since regaining power in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s promises regarding respect for women’s rights have not been convincing. While at the talks in Oslo, Norway, Western diplomats pressed the Taliban to recognize the rights of girls and women to education, the doors of girls’ schools remained closed.

Thus, such means of diplomacy with the Taliban have proven not to be an effective tool to protect the rights and dignity of women in Afghanistan.

Instead, the Taliban and their supporters take the trip of Taliban leaders and those still on the UN sanctions list to Western countries as an endorsement.

Many European countries spoke to the Taliban about the evacuation of those who served their missions in Afghanistan, which led to the evacuation of 22,000 Afghans, including human rights defenders, journalists, social activists civil and judges.

European countries have also discussed with the Taliban humanitarian aid and possible development cooperation.

EU foreign ministers have agreed that the EU will engage with the Taliban, which means establishing a diplomatic presence on the ground in Kabul, if they respect human rights, in particular the rights of women, and put in place an inclusive and representative transitional government.

These diplomatic relations have not yet led to a change in behavior among the Taliban, particularly with regard to the protection of women’s rights.

On the other hand, European countries have no alternative but to talk to the Taliban. The standoff between the Taliban and the international community only harms the Afghans who are struggling with a serious economic and humanitarian crisis.

Certainly, humanitarian aid is one of the only common languages ​​shared by Kabul and the West today and must therefore be used effectively and constructively.

EU engagement with the Taliban in an informal form and focused on specific demands for women’s rights, such as access to education, employment and protective legal services, can potentially protect the rights of Afghan women.

The West already suffered a dismal failure in Afghanistan last summer. After two decades of investing lives and resources in Afghanistan, the Taliban, with the same ideology on women’s rights, came to power.

Unless the Taliban guarantee their obligation to protect human rights, the lack of commitment will mean another defeat for the West. However, engagement should not mean acknowledgment or support of the regime engaged in massive human rights violations.

Instead, European countries should send their direct message that any cooperation will be conditional on the Taliban respecting women’s rights.

Recommendation:

The Taliban will remain adamant on their women’s rights ideology if they are not pushed by those with influence and able to help them secure their country, fix the economic system and reverse the crisis. humanitarian.

It is time for the European External Action Service, a body which aims to make EU foreign policy more coherent and effective and to increase Europe’s global influence, to check its value for the protection of human rights of man and that its leaders resume the game differently and effectively.

With the Taliban fiercely persisting in their belief in women’s rights and a suffering population deprived of human rights, the EU cannot be too ambitious. Nevertheless, they must identify a specific set of rights to be realized, including the rights to access education, employment and only legal services.

Given some of the lessons learned from the last 20 years, including the use of women’s rights as a political pawn and the underestimation of the power of the unmet basic needs of ordinary citizens, the EU must act cautiously and remain engaged.

Among the continuous and necessary actions that the EU can and must take to restore women’s rights in Afghanistan are:

1) Hold an informal dialogue with the Taliban in Doha or elsewhere without having its diplomats in Kabul and stress the conditionality of future cooperation and aid based on women’s human rights.

2) Through an extreme interpretation of Islamic Sharia, the Taliban violate women’s rights. The EU should exert its influence on Islamic countries in the region, especially those in close contact with the Taliban, such as Qatar and Pakistan, to understand Islamic justice and highlight them in the dialogue with the Taliban .

3) The EU should involve Afghan diaspora communities in Europe in its dialogue and policy formulation with the Taliban.

4) Finally, the EU should not hesitate to use political and economic force against the Taliban if they continue to inflict extreme standards on women.

Nazila Jamshidi is a specialist in gender equality and human rights. She has worked for the United Nations, USAID, IFRC and various other international organizations on development and democratization processes in Afghanistan for the past ten years. Born in Afghanistan, she is currently a master’s student at Columbia University in New York.