Thank you very much, everyone, for joining us this morning.
And yes, we just got back – myself, Executive Director for UN Women and our ASG (Assistant Secretary-General) from DPPA (Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs) and DPO (Department of Peace Operations) – yesterday evening.
It was a trip that took us about two weeks. It took this long because at the very beginning, when the Taliban announced the bans on education and women in the workplace, our consultations were clear: that we need to have a united front in engaging with trying to get a reversal of these bans; the most important thing, women's rights and girls' rights in Afghanistan.
So, we did embark on a number of visits in person that were consultative, to the region and slightly beyond: Türkiye and Indonesia were included, to some of the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia.
And then on our way out of Afghanistan, we did visit Kazakhstan but also the UK and the EU. And I think this is important because this is the whole of society, government approach. The international community needs to have that unified response.
We had three things in mind – first was solidarity and the importance of women's rights and what had been taken away off the agenda in Afghanistan, with a view to education, secondary and tertiary. And in the workplace and more specifically in the humanitarian space, where this was about women's lives, this was about people's lives and therefore double jeopardy – not just women's rights but the impact of it will be the loss of lives.
The second was to get the engagement, to engage with all parts of our community, but particularly those partners of ours who had different reactions to how we should deal with this and to engage with the people who are the beneficiaries of the support we give and the women's voices that were really loud before we got there and really said to us, "Look, this is not about you taking your voice. But you need to listen to us, you need to take our voices and you need to amplify them with the Taliban." And so, engagement writ large.
The third, of course, was to see if there was any opening, any momentum that we could have on the political track. All in all, the visits to Afghanistan themselves, they covered our stay and interactions in Kabul. We then went to Kandahar and met there with the authorities and then to Herat, where we met with those who had been impacted quite severely by these bans.
The meetings in Kabul had started as women had asked me, "Meet with us first and not last, so you really do hear what we want to say going in." They were very clear – they were women from NGOs, they were women who worked with the international community. They were our staff, the Afghan women in our system, the Mission there. And we also spoke with younger women who were also part of the work we were doing with UN Women.
We spoke again to the international community just before coming in, because some of them are based in Doha; others from the region, together with the EU, based in Kabul. So we met with them in the evening. We had the opportunity to meet with the former President, [Hamid] Karzai, and the Prime Minister, Abdullah Abdullah. We then met with three, four ministers, from the foreign minister to the agricultural minister to the refugees and repatriation and also the deputy prime minister.
We moved on to Kandahar. We met with the Shura, the Ulema that gives the edicts, the laws that pass through. And we met with the governor's office, the deputy governor and his cabinet.
In Herat, we visited a market situation where in fact women were not allowed to come. Some were there because their mahrams came with them, but mostly we heard from the women that now could no longer have the education or the skills acquisition that they have got to keep them working.
In the case of the engagement with the Taliban, their messages were off one script – all the things they say they have done and that have not got recognition for. We reminded them that even in the case where they talked about the rights, edicts that they had promulgated for protecting women, they were giving rights with the one hand and taking away with the other, and that was not acceptable.
In the case where we spoke to them and they started to talk to us about the humanitarian principles, we reminded them that in humanitarian principles, non-discrimination was a key part of that, and humanitarian and that they were wiping out our women from the workplace. Very specific, the kind of impacts they were having in the medical and in the education field. We have had some – and I would say credit to all those with the push and pull in the international community - have had some exemptions on the medical and on the education part of this. We need to keep, to push the very limits. At the same time, it is a tough call when you are saving lives- saving lives and maintaining the principles and women's and children's rights are really a difficult tension and a very fine line to navigate, as we do this, but we tried the best that we could.
We also spoke to, we asked them, as you all know, in the past, the Taliban has said, as they take away rights that in due course, they will come back to this. We said to them, is that in due course ten years, twenty years, fifty years? And we asked them: let's have a timeline. Let's be very specific about this. What they would say was soon.
For them, what they want to do is create an environment that protects women. Their definition of protection would be, I would say, ours of oppression. What is it that they want to put into those checks and balances to protect women's lives - there would be structures as to how people would be educated and go to work, the hijab, the curriculum, these for us are all red flags that we need to look at and to see that we are not completely losing all rights for women and children.
We pushed on a number of other issues as to how these exemptions could be extended all the way. We have not seen the history of the Taliban reversing any edict. What we have seen as exemptions that, hopefully, if we keep pushing them, they will water down the edicts to the point where we will get women and girls back into the workplace.
Martin Griffiths is there currently, building on the work that has been done since last year by the humanitarian community and our partners, and I hope this trip has contributed to reinforcing our demands that these bans are reversed, reinforcing the demands of women's rights and girl's rights to be respected. Continuing an engagement beyond this trip because this is not a one-fix wonder, and then creating that space for, can the international community come more to the front and more unified, and the role of the Islamic countries and the neighbourhood taking much more of a stand, as we saw in the OIC statement and the statement of Türkiye. And every time I went to one of these Muslim countries, they did reinforce the fact that Islam did not ban women from education or from the workplace. So, trying to build that momentum to make sure that they take a step forward. They are the neighbours, they are engaging, and that the international community support that in our trying to grab back what we lost in the last few months.