How setbacks in Afghanistan slowed global progress on UN’s gender equality goal

Special How setbacks in Afghanistan slowed global progress on UN’s gender equality goal
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Taliban fighters fire into the air to disperse Afghan women protesters in Kabul on August 13, 2022. (AFP)
Special How setbacks in Afghanistan slowed global progress on UN’s gender equality goal
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Afghan women refugees rally in front of the UN headquarters in New York to protest the loss of their rights under Taliban rule. (AFP)
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Afghan women in Kabul as a convoy of Taliban fighters makes its way down the road. (AFP)
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Updated 24 September 2022

How setbacks in Afghanistan slowed global progress on UN’s gender equality goal

How setbacks in Afghanistan slowed global progress on UN’s gender equality goal
  • Decades of achievements wiped out in mere months since Taliban takeover in August 2021
  • Globally, women lost an estimated $800 billion in income in 2020 due to the pandemic
  • Norwegian representative underscores need to keep situation of women in Afghanistan high on the UN agenda

NEW YORK CITY / BOGOTA, Colombia: Since the Taliban seized Kabul in August 2021, two decades of progress in women’s education, employment, and empowerment in Afghan public life have been dramatically rolled back, leading to calls for the international community to increase pressure on the regime.

Speaking at a recent UN news conference, Naheed Farid, an Afghan women’s rights activist who was the youngest-ever politician elected to the nation’s parliament in 2010, urged world leaders to label the Taliban a “gender apartheid” regime.

Afghan women’s rights activist Naheed Farid speaks at a UN conference on women rights. (Supplied)

“Afghan women are experiencing one of the biggest human rights crises in the world and in the history of human rights. What is happening in Afghanistan is gender apartheid,” Farid told reporters in New York on Sept. 12. 

“I’m not the first to say that. But the inaction of the international community and decision-makers at large makes it important for all of us to repeat this every time we can.”

Just as it had in South Africa in the 1980s and ’90s, Farid said the apartheid label could be a catalyst for change in Afghanistan, where severe restrictions have been placed on women’s movements, right to work and access to education since the Taliban took power.

The OIC and other multilateral bodies need to get the Taliban to respect women’s and human rights issues, says advocate Naheed Farid. (Supplied)

When world leaders meet for the UN General Assembly in New York City, Farid said, they must speak with Afghan women living in exile and try to grasp the severity of the situation facing women and girls in Afghanistan.

“All Afghan women, regardless of where they are, feel abandoned by the international community, feel like their voices are not heard, and their demands not reflected in any of the discussions and policies impacting the future of their countries,” she said.

Farid called on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and other multilateral bodies to create a platform for Afghan women to directly negotiate with the Taliban on women’s rights and human rights issues. 

Also speaking at the press conference, Najiba Sanjar, an Afghan feminist and human rights activist, urged governments to maintain sanctions on the Taliban, to ban the group’s representatives from the UN, and for all delegations meeting with regime officials to include women. 

“There was a need to engage with the Taliban to protect women’s rights in Afghanistan, but this engagement first must not be behind closed doors with the absence of Afghan women,” said Sanjar.

“Secondly, the engagement with the Taliban should not give legitimacy and recognition to the Taliban. And, as always, and especially this month before the world convenes for the UN General Assembly, we ask that Afghan women are not forgotten, not silenced, and not relinquished as collateral damage of the world’s broken promises.”

According to a new UN report, achieving full gender equality worldwide could be centuries away, with existing disparities compounded in recent times by multiple global crises and a backlash against empowerment of women in some countries.

By the end of 2022, around 383 million women and girls will live in extreme poverty compared to 368 million men and boys, says UN report. (AFP)

In 2015, the UN launched the Sustainable Development Goals — a set of aspirations covering everything from ending hunger to making education available to all — to be achieved by 2030. Among them was the goal of gender equality. 

However, according to the UN report, titled “Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The Gender Snapshot 2022,” compiled by UN Women and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, this goal is unlikely to be achieved this century, let alone by the end of the decade.

At the current rate of progress, the report estimates it will take up to 286 years to close gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws, 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace, and at least 40 years to achieve equal representation in national parliaments. 

To eradicate child marriage by 2030, the report says progress must be 17 times faster than the progress of the last decade. It also points to a reversal in the reduction of poverty and says rising prices are likely to exacerbate this trend. 

By the end of 2022, around 383 million women and girls will live in extreme poverty compared to 368 million men and boys. Many more will have insufficient income to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and adequate shelter in most parts of the world, the report adds.

“This is a tipping point for women’s rights and gender equality as we approach the halfway mark to 2030,” Sima Bahous, UN Women executive director, said in a statement. 

“It is critical that we rally now to invest in women and girls to reclaim and accelerate progress. The data show undeniable regressions in their lives made worse by the global crises — in incomes, safety, education, and health. The longer we take to reverse this trend, the more it will cost us all.”

Several overlapping crises have contributed to this reversal in women’s rights and opportunities. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic repercussions have taken a disproportionate toll on women and women-headed households. 

In 2020, school and preschool closures during the pandemic required 672 billion hours of additional unpaid childcare globally. Assuming the gender divide in care work remained the same as before the pandemic, women would have shouldered 512 billion of those hours.

Globally, women lost an estimated $800 billion in income in 2020 due to the pandemic, and, despite a rebound, their participation in labor markets is projected to be lower in 2022 than it was pre-pandemic.



At the same time, regional conflicts and the impact of climate change have displaced millions. There are now more women and girls who are forcibly displaced than ever before — some 44 million women and girls by the end of 2021. 

Meanwhile, about 38 percent of female-headed households in war-affected areas experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in 2021, compared to 20 percent of male-headed households, according to the UN report.

The war in Ukraine has only compounded this food insecurity, causing a spike in the market price of bread, cooking oils, and other staples in some of the world’s most vulnerable, import-dependent contexts. 

“Cascading global crises are putting the achievement of the SDGs in jeopardy, with the world’s most vulnerable population groups disproportionately impacted, in particular women and girls,” Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, assistant secretary-general for policy coordination and inter-agency affairs at UN/DESA, said in a statement.

“Gender equality is a foundation for achieving all SDGs and it should be at the heart of building back better.”

Isolated on the world stage, deprived of essential financial assistance, and afflicted by drought and other natural disasters, Afghanistan is uniquely vulnerable to this amalgam of crises. 

A recent survey of women inside Afghanistan highlighted at the press conference by Sanjar, found that only 4 percent of women reported always having enough food to eat, while a quarter said their income had dropped to zero. 

Family violence and femicide have reportedly increased, and 57 percent of Afghan women are married before the age of 19, the survey found. There are even cases of families selling their daughters and their possessions to buy food.  

“We are all watching the sufferings of women, girls and minorities from the screens of our TVs as if an action movie is going on,” Sanjar told reporters. “A true form of injustice is taking place right in front of our eyes. And we are all watching silently and partaking in this sin by staying complacent and accepting it as a new normal.”  

And the Taliban’s treatment of women could be worsening the situation for Afghanistan as a whole. Unless the Taliban shows it is willing to soften its hardline approach, particularly on matters relating to women’s rights, the regime is unlikely to gain access to billions of dollars in desperately needed aid, loans and frozen assets held by the US, International Monetary Fund and World Bank. 

Furthermore, keeping women out of work costs Afghanistan up to $1 billion, or 5 percent of gross domestic product, according to the UN. 

“It is more important than ever to keep the situation of women in Afghanistan high on our agenda,” said Mona Juul, permanent representative of Norway to the UN, speaking at the Sept. 12 UN press conference, which was organized by the Norwegian mission.

Norway is the penholder on Afghanistan-related issues at the Security Council. The role of penholder refers to the member of the UN body that leads the negotiations and drafting of resolutions on a particular issue.

Juul added: “One year after the Taliban takeover, the situation for women and girls has deteriorated at a shocking scale and speed. Countries, like my own, will continue to engage with the Taliban directly to underscore how girls’ education and women’s participation are fundamental, not least to respond to the dire humanitarian and economic crisis in the country.”


Studies have shown that each additional year of schooling can boost a girl’s earnings as an adult by up to 20 percent with further impacts on poverty reduction, better maternal health, lower child mortality, greater HIV prevention, and reduced violence against women. 

“In Afghanistan, like everywhere else in the world, sustainable peace and development can only happen when women fully participate in all aspects of political life,” said Juul. “No country can afford to leave behind their women and girls.”

For millions of Afghan women and girls who had experienced some semblance of freedom under a UN-recognized government from 2001 to 2021, the future under the Taliban appears unfathomably bleak.

“I’m hearing more and more stories from Afghan women choosing to take their life out of hopelessness and despair,” said Farid. 

“This is the ultimate indicator on how bad the situation is for Afghan women and girls — that they are choosing death, and that this is preferred for them than living under the Taliban regime.” 


Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire
Updated 26 November 2022

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire
  • China has put the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country’s longest lockdowns
  • Urumqi protests followed a fire in a high-rise building there that killed 10 on Thursday night

Rare protests broke out in China’s far western Xinjiang region, with crowds shouting at hazmat-suited guards after a deadly fire triggered anger over their prolonged COVID-19 lockdown as nationwide infections set another record.
Crowds chanted “End the lockdown!,” pumping their fists in the air as they walked down a street, according to videos circulated on Chinese social media on Friday night. Reuters verified the footage was published from the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.
Videos showed people in a plaza singing China’s national anthem with its lyric, “Rise up, those who refuse to be slaves!” while others shouted that they wanted to be released from lockdowns.
China has put the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country’s longest lockdowns, with many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents barred from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days. The city reported about 100 new cases each of the past two days.
Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uyghurs. Rights groups and Western governments have long accused Beijing of abuses against the mainly Muslim ethnic minority, including forced labor in internment camps. China strongly rejects such claims.
The Urumqi protests followed a fire in a high-rise building there that killed 10 on Thursday night.
Authorities have said the building’s residents had been able to go downstairs, but videos of emergency crews’ efforts, shared on Chinese social media, led many Internet users to surmise that residents could not escape in time because the building was partially locked down.
Urumqi officials abruptly held a news conference in the early hours of Saturday, denying that COVID-19 measures had hampered escape and rescue but saying they would investigate further. One said residents could have escaped faster if they had better understood fire safety.
Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, said such a “blame-the-victim” attitude would make people angrier. “Public trust will just sink lower,” he told Reuters.
Users on China’s Weibo platform described the incident as a tragedy that sprang out of China’s insistence on sticking to its zero COVID-19 policy and something that could happen to anyone. Some lamented its similarities to the deadly September crash of a COVID-19 quarantine bus.
“Is there not something we can reflect on to make some changes,” said an essay that went viral on WeChat on Friday, questioning the official narrative on the Urumqi apartment fire.
China defends President Xi Jinping’s signature zero COVID-19 policy as life-saving and necessary to prevent overwhelming the health care system. Officials have vowed to continue with it despite the growing public pushback and its mounting toll on the world’s second-biggest economy.
While the country recently tweaked its measures, shortening quarantines and taking other targeted steps, this coupled with rising cases has caused widespread confusion and uncertainty in big cities, including Beijing, where many residents are locked down at home.
China recorded 34,909 daily local cases, low by global standards but the third record in a row, with infections spreading numerous cities, prompting widespread lockdowns and other curbs on movement and business.
Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial hub, tightened testing requirements on Saturday for entering cultural venues such as museums and libraries, requiring people to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours, down from 72 hours earlier.
Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, popular with runners and picnickers, shut again after having briefly reopened.

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot
Updated 56 min 40 sec ago

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot
  • Shooting the latest twist in months of political turmoil that began when Iman Khan was ousted
  • Rally takes place on a vast open ground between Islamabad and neighboring Rawalpindi

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan is expected on Saturday to address thousands of supporters at his first public appearance since being shot earlier this month in an assassination attempt he blamed on his successor.
The shooting was the latest twist in months of political turmoil that began in April when Khan was ousted by a vote of no confidence in parliament.
Saturday’s rally is the climax of a so-called “long march” by Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to press the government to call a snap election before parliament’s term expires in October next year.
“My life is in danger, and despite being injured I am going to Rawalpindi for the nation,” PTI quoted Khan as saying in a morning tweet.
“My nation will come to Rawalpindi for me.”
On Saturday, a video was circulating of aides posing with a now-removed blue cast that Khan wore on his right leg after the shooting.
The rally will take place on a vast open ground between the capital, Islamabad, and neighboring Rawalpindi — the garrison city that is home to the headquarters of the country’s powerful military.
Authorities have thrown a ring of steel around Islamabad to prevent Khan’s supporters from marching on government buildings, with thousands of security personnel deployed and roads blocked by shipping containers.
Khan-led protests in May spiraled into 24 hours of chaos, with the capital blockaded and running clashes across Pakistan between police and protesters.
Police said any attempt by PTI supporters to enter Islamabad this time would be firmly dealt with.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah — who Khan says was involved in the assassination plot — issued a “red alert” Friday warning of security threats to the rally.
“PTI still has the time (to cancel),” he said, listing Pakistan’s Taliban and Al Qaeda among the extremist groups that could harm Khan.
The government says the assassination attempt was the work of a lone wolf now in custody, with police leaking a “confession” video by the junk-shop owner saying he acted because Khan was against Islam.
But Khan, a former international cricket star with a playboy reputation before he married, said he has long warned the government would blame a religious fanatic for any attempt to kill him.
Saturday’s rally takes place two days after the government named a former spymaster as the next military chief.
General Syed Asim Munir’s appointment ended months of speculation over a position long considered the real power in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation of 220 million people.
Munir served as chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency under Khan, but his stint ended after just eight months following a reported falling out.
Pakistan’s military, the world’s sixth-largest, is hugely influential in the country and has staged at least three coups since independence in 1947, ruling for more than three decades.
Since being ousted, Khan has staged a series of mass rallies across the country, drawing huge crowds.
Saturday’s gathering is expected to be one of the biggest yet.
Convoys of PTI supporters were streaming in from around Pakistan, with buses, trucks and cars bearing party flags.


Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts

Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts
Updated 26 November 2022

Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts

Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts
  • Treatment of women and girls may amount to ‘gender persecution’ under the Rome Statute to which Afghanistan is a party

GENEVA: The Taliban’s treatment of Afghan women and girls, including their exclusion from parks and gyms as well as schools and universities, may amount to a crime against humanity, a group of UN experts said on Friday.
The assessment by the UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan Richard Bennett and nine other UN experts says the treatment of women and girls may amount to “gender persecution” under the Rome Statute to which Afghanistan is a party.
Responding to the assessment, Taliban Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi said: “The current collective punishment of innocent Afghans by the UN sanctions regime all in the name of women rights and equality amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
The UN experts said in a statement that women’s confinement to their homes was “tantamount to imprisonment,” adding that it was likely to lead to increased levels of domestic violence and mental health problems. The experts cited the arrest this month of female activist Zarifa Yaqobi and four male colleagues.
They remain in detention, the experts said.
The Taliban took over from a Western-backed government in August 2021. They say they respect women’s rights in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law.
Western governments have said the Taliban needs to reverse its course on women’s rights, including their U-turn on signals they would open girls’ high schools, for any path toward formal recognition of the Taliban government.
Separately, a spokesperson for the UN human rights office called for the Taliban authorities to immediately halt the use of public floggings in Afghanistan.
Ravina Shamdasani said the office had documented numerous such incidents this month, including a woman and a man lashed 39 times each for spending time alone together outside of marriage. Balkhi said the Taliban administration considered the statement by the United Nations and others by Western officials were “an insult toward Islam and violation of international principals.”

Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims

Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims
Updated 26 November 2022

Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims

Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims

LONDON: The Consul General of Pakistan has been working with the UK-based humanitarian charity Penny Appeal to raise “life-changing funds” for communities hit by devastating floods across Pakistan.

“The Consul General of Pakistan, Mr. Ibrar Hussain Khan, honored the charity’s efforts to support the people of Pakistan by attending their fundraising dinners as the chief guest of honor, and making a special guest appearance on the charity’s live appeals which were aired on British Muslim TV,” Penny Appeal said in a statement.

“Khan has played a crucial role in driving the compassion and generosity of the public to secure more funds and extend Penny Appeal’s provisions across Pakistan,” it added.

Devastating floods since June have killed more than 1,700 people, displaced 7.9 million, and inflicted billions of dollars of damage. Pakistani authorities estimate property damage could be as high as $40 billion.

The £1 million ($1.2 million) cheque was presented to the consul general at the Pakistani consulate in Bradford by Penny Appeal’s founder, Adeem Younis.

“With the support of the Pakistani authorities on the ground, Penny Appeal have been working tirelessly across 16 flood-affected districts to deliver life-changing aid, in the form of hot food, safe drinking water, medical aid, shelter, and cash grants to those most in need,” Penny Appeal said.

So far, the charity has delivered over half a million liters of drinking water, distributed over 200,000 cooked meals, and continues to provide food, medical aid and hygiene kits daily.

The charity is now in phase two of its response and is working with the government to provide newly built homes, with 100 homes already being built to accommodate up to 1,000 people.

“Khan has been an incredible asset to the appeal and his passion for helping those in need knows no bounds,” Younis said.

“Thanks to people like him, we are making a real and lasting difference to some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and I am particularly proud of the way we have united in our efforts both here in the UK and across Pakistan to help our brothers and sisters get through this calamity.’’


EU ministers endorse new migrant plan after France-Italy spat

EU ministers endorse new migrant plan after France-Italy spat
Updated 26 November 2022

EU ministers endorse new migrant plan after France-Italy spat

EU ministers endorse new migrant plan after France-Italy spat

BRUSSELS: European interior ministers welcomed Friday an EU plan to better coordinate the handling of migrant arrivals, after a furious row over a refugee rescue boat erupted between Italy and France.
France has accused Italy of failing to respect the law of the sea by turning away the NGO vessel earlier this month, triggering crisis talks in Brussels to head off a new EU dispute over the politically fraught issue.
All sides described the meeting as productive, although Czech interior minister Vit Rakusan, whose country holds the EU presidency, later said all participants had agreed that “more can and must be done” to find a lasting solution.
The ministers will gather again at a pre-planned December 8 meeting to pursue the “difficult discussion,” he said.
European Commission vice president Margaritis Schinas, the commissioner charged with “promoting our European way of life,” said Europe could no longer settle for just another ad hoc solution.
“We cannot continue working event-by-event, ship-by-ship, incident-by-incident, route-by-route,” he said, recalling that previous crises had been seized upon by “populistic and europhobe forces.”
Numbers of asylum seekers are still far lower than the levels of 2015 and 2016, but the dispute has already undermined a stop-gap pact to redistribute arrivals more evenly around the 27-nation bloc.
Brussels has been struggling for years to agree and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers but the ugly row has brought the issue to the fore.
Earlier this month, Italy’s new government under far-right leader Georgia Meloni refused to allow a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship to dock with 234 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.
The Ocean Viking eventually continued on to France, where authorities reacted with fury to Rome’s stance, suspending an earlier deal to take in 3,500 asylum seekers stranded in Italy.
The row undermined the EU’s interim solution and led to Paris calling Friday’s extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states.
“The Ocean Viking crisis was a bit of improvization,” Schinas admitted, defending the new plan from his commission to better coordinate rescues and migrant and refugee arrivals.
“We have twenty specific actions, we have an important political agreement, everyone is committed to working so as not to reproduce this kind of situation.”
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said there was no reason for France to accept migrants relocated from Italy if Rome “does not take the boats, does not accept the law of the sea.”
Darmanin’s Italian opposite number Matteo Piantedosi played down the Ocean Viking incident, saying the meeting was “not dealing with individual cases or operational management.”
He said he had shaken hands with the French minister and that there was a “convergence of positions” allowing the ministers to resume discussion at the December 8 meeting.
Belgian counterpart Nicole De Moor called for “solidarity,” saying that Belgium was taking in more than its fair share of migrants leaving its reception facilities overwhelmed.
The previous plan was drawn up after Mediterranean countries closer to North African shores, like Italy and Greece, complained that they were shouldering too much responsibility for migrants.
A dozen EU members agreed to take in 8,000 asylum seekers — with France and Germany accepting 3,500 each — but so far just 117 relocations have actually happened.
On Monday, the European Commission unveiled a new action plan to better regulate arrivals on the central Mediterranean sea route.
It was not well-received by aid agencies. Stephanie Pope, an expert on migration for aid agency Oxfam, dubbed Brussels’ plan “just another reshuffle of old ideas that do not work.”
And a European diplomat said that plan “contains nothing new, so it isn’t going to solve the migration issue.”
The ministers nevertheless accepted it and Schinas said it should prevent more crises as Europe once again attempts to negotiate a global migration plan that would have the force of EU law.
The plan would see Brussels work more closely with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to try to stop undocumented migrants boarding smuggler vessels in the first place.
While France and Italy argue about high-profile cases of dramatic sea rescues in the central Mediterranean, other EU capitals are more concerned about land routes through the Balkans.
Almost 130,000 undocumented migrants are estimated to have come to the bloc since the start of the year, an increase of 160 percent, according to the EU border force Frontex.
Greek Interior Minister Notis Mitarachi, meanwhile, complained that Turkiye is not complying with a 2016 migration agreement that includes taking back migrants who are not entitled to asylum.