Women and girls in Afghanistan are now almost completely excluded from public life after just three short months of full Taliban rule – since the collapse of the Afghan government and the withdrawal of the US military. Gender equality is non-existent and human dignity is openly attacked through state-sponsored repression.
The situation is tragically ironic today, the 73rd anniversary of the UN proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the affirmation of equal rights for men and women. It is also the day when the Nobel Peace Prize will be formally awarded to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for “efforts to ensure freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace” in the Philippines and Russia.
Neither human rights nor freedom of expression exist in Afghanistan today. Although the Taliban speaks out in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the gains that Afghan women and girls have made over the last 20 years are almost lost. These include their tremendous efforts to improve the lives of their families, their communities and their country.
Even worse, it’s becoming more likely that more than half of Afghans will face “emergency levels” of food insecurity this winter. This is an unprecedented level of acutely food insecure people, according to the UN.
There are at least three things that the US government and civil society can still do to help stem the tide and reaffirm our support for the Afghan people who stood with us in the pursuit of a more peaceful and prosperous future.
First, we must resolve Catch-22 by leaving Afghanistan: Anyone trying to leave Afghanistan now needs a visa, but there are currently no US diplomatic or consular services there. The same is true in many other countries, so it is impossible to get out. The United States and the United Nations should establish a humanitarian corridor for people wishing to travel and to allow much-needed aid to enter Afghanistan. The US government should implement electronic filing and remote consular interviews.
Second, the public and private sectors must mobilize to meet the grossly disregarded challenges for Afghans who are idling in third countries while awaiting final resettlement. Faced with limited visa routes and long periods of treatment, many evacuated Afghans who are not at designated U.S. military bases abroad have been left in a legal limbo in remote locations with scarce resources. Many individuals and families face very real risks of hunger, abuse and exploitation because there is only limited protection of their rights and freedom of action and they have no money due to the liquidity crisis in Afghanistan.
Finally, we must not let the world forget the millions of women and children who remain in Afghanistan and face the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
Once and for all critical pillars in the pursuit of freedom, equality and development in their country, women are once again being denied even the most basic human rights. Half of all children under the age of 5 are at risk of severe acute malnutrition. And young girls and young women – a crucial influence on future innovation, growth and development – have been excluded from educational institutions in most regions of the country and the brand in the midst of an ever-growing humanitarian crisis.
Before the Taliban returned to power a few months ago, 84 percent of Afghans agreed that women should have the same educational opportunities as men; more than 3.5 million girls went to school and 100,000 women were enrolled in public and private universities compared to none in 2001.
At the first post-Kabul press conference on August 15, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said: “Our sisters, our men have the same rights.” But the Taliban’s history and current actions contradict their words.
The Taliban are on what journalist William J. Dobson has called “the dictator’s learning curve.” They will soon – or have always been – a member of “Autocracy Inc.”, the unofficial club of modern autocrats, according to author Anne Applebaum.
The theme of this Human Rights Day is “Gender Equality – Reducing Inequalities, Promoting Human Rights.”
If we really intend to face this moment, we must prioritize the status of the most vulnerable among us. And that means the people of Afghanistan.
Although our withdrawal from their country is complete, the United States and the international community still have a huge role to play in supporting Afghans, especially women and children.
Natalie Gonnella-Platts is Director of the Women’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.
Paul Fagan is the Director of Human Rights and Democracy Programs at the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University.