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)
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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

  • 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.” 


UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

Updated 53 min 26 sec ago

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

  • United Nations: 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year
  • UN aid chief Martin Griffiths: ‘next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program’ the world has ever seen

GENEVA: The UN appealed for record funds for aid next year, as the Ukraine war and other conflicts, climate emergencies and the still-simmering pandemic push more people into crisis, and some toward famine.
The United Nations’ annual Global Humanitarian Overview estimated that 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year — a staggering 65 million more people than the estimate a year ago.
“It’s a phenomenal number and it’s a depressing number,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva, adding that it meant “next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program” the world has ever seen.
If all the people in need of emergency assistance were in one country, it would be the third-largest nation in the world, after China and India, he said.
And the new estimate means that one in 23 people will need help in 2023, compared to one in 95 back in 2015.
As the extreme events seen in 2022 spill into 2023, Griffiths described the humanitarian needs as “shockingly high.”
“Lethal droughts and floods are wreaking havoc in communities from Pakistan to the Horn of Africa,” he said, also pointing to the war in Ukraine, which “has turned a part of Europe into a battlefield.”
The annual appeal by UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations said that providing aid to the 230 million most vulnerable people across 68 countries would require a record $51.5 billion.
That was up from the $41 billion requested for 2022, although the sum has been revised up to around $50 billion during the year — with less than half of that sought-for amount funded.
“For people on the brink, this appeal is a lifeline,” Griffiths said.
The report presented a depressing picture of soaring needs brought on by a range of conflicts, worsening instability and a deepening climate crisis.
“There is no doubt that 2023 is going to perpetuate these on-steroids trends,” Griffiths warned.
The overlapping crises have already left the world dealing with the “largest global food crisis in modern history,” the UN warned.
It pointed out that at least 222 million people across 53 countries were expected to face acute food insecurity by the end of this year, with 45 million of them facing the risk of starvation.
“Five countries already are experiencing what we call famine-like conditions, in which we can confidently, unhappily, say that people are dying as a result,” Griffiths said.
Those countries — Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti, Somalia and South Sudan — have seen portions of their populations face “catastrophic hunger” this year, but have not yet seen country-wide famines declared.
Forced displacement is meanwhile surging, with the number of people living as refugees, asylum seekers or displaced inside their own country passing 100 million — over one percent of the global population — for the first time this year.
“And all of this on top of the devastation left by the pandemic among the world’s poorest,” Griffiths said, also pointing to outbreaks of mpox, previously known as monkeypox, Ebola, cholera and other diseases.
Conflicts have taken a dire toll on a range of countries, not least on Ukraine, where Russia’s full-scale invasion in February has left millions in dire need.
The global humanitarian plan will aim to provide $1.7 billion in cash assistance to 6.3 million people inside the war-torn country, and also $5.7 billion to help the millions of Ukrainians and their host communities in surrounding countries.
More than 28 million people are meanwhile considered to be in need in drought-hit Afghanistan, which last year saw the Taliban sweep back into power, while another eight million Afghans and their hosts in the region also need assistance.
More than $5 billion has been requested to address that combined crisis, while further billions were requested to help the many millions of people impacted by the years-long conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
The appeal also highlighted the dire situation in Ethiopia, where worsening drought and a two-year-conflict in Tigray have left nearly 29 million people in desperate need of assistance.
Faced with such towering needs, Griffiths said he hoped 2023 would be a year of “solidarity, just as 2022 has been a year of suffering.”


Ten killed in bombing of Afghan religious school — Taliban official

Updated 30 November 2022

Ten killed in bombing of Afghan religious school — Taliban official

  • No group has claimed responsibility, though Daesh has been waging violence in Afghanistan
  • Samangan province, where the incident took place, has a majority population of ethnic Uzbeks

ISLAMABAD: A bomb blast hit a religious school in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least 10 students, a Taliban official said.

The explosion went off at around the time of afternoon prayers at the Al Jihad Madrassa in Aybak, capital of Samangan province, a resident of the city who heard the explosion told The Associated Press. Most of the students at the school are young boys, said the resident, speaking on condition of anonymity for his own safety.

Video distributed by the Taliban to the media showed the blast site, a hall littered with debris, mats and shoes, with dead bodies and bloodstains on the floor. Sirens can be heard in the background and men, some of them armed, move through the hall surveying the explosion’s aftermath.

Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor said a number of students were wounded in the attack. Samangan province has a majority population of ethnic Uzbeks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the Afghan affiliate of the Daesh group has been waging a campaign of violence that escalated since the Taliban took power in August 2021.

Daesh has carried out bombings targeting in particular Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim minority but has also targeted Sunni mosques and madrassas, especially ones connected to the Taliban. The Taliban and the Daesh group both adhere to a hard-line ideology but are bitter rivals.

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

Updated 30 November 2022

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

  • Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft
  • "Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU's executive said

BRUSSELS: The European Commission proposed a plan on Wednesday to compensate Ukraine for damage from Russia’s invasion with proceeds from investing Russian funds frozen under sanctions.
Officials in the EU, United States and other Western countries have long debated whether Ukraine can benefit from frozen Russian assets, including around $300 billion of Russia’s central bank reserves and $20 billion held by blacklisted Russians.
Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft.
“Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU’s executive said in a statement.
“The damage suffered by Ukraine is estimated at 600 billion euros. Russia and its oligarchs have to compensate Ukraine for the damage and cover the costs for rebuilding the country.”
European Commission officials said that one short-term option for Western nations would be to create a fund to manage and invest liquid assets of the central bank, and use the proceeds to support Ukraine.
The assets would be returned to their owners when sanctions were lifted, which could be part of a peace agreement that ensured Ukraine received compensation for damages.
“It’s not easy so it will require strong backing from the international community but we believe it is doable,” one official said.
With regard to the frozen assets of private individuals and entities, seizing these is usually only legally possible where there is a criminal conviction.
The Commission has proposed that violations of sanctions could be classified as an offense that would allow confiscation.
Von der Leyen also said that the Commission was proposing the establishment of a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, “to investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression.”
Moscow denies its invasion, which it calls a “special military operation,” constitutes aggression, a war crime under international law.

French authorities rescue 61 migrants including Pakistanis in English Channel

Updated 30 November 2022

French authorities rescue 61 migrants including Pakistanis in English Channel

  • This was one of the largest emergency operations in recent months 
  • Afghan, Indian, Iranian and Pakistani nationals were aboard the dinghy

BOULOGNE, France: French authorities rescued 61 migrants including small children in the English Channel on Tuesday in one of the largest emergency operations in recent months as calm seas drew a rush of migrants in small boats toward the coast of Britain.

Rescue workers in the port of Boulogne, where the migrants were brought ashore, said about 30 people had to be plucked out of the cold waters as they rushed to climb aboard a French rescue vessel from their rubber dinghy, which had been taking on water.

Officials said the rescue took place about one nautical mile inside British territorial waters.

Afghan, Indian, Iranian and Pakistani nationals were aboard the dinghy, which left the French coast in the small hours of the morning, the refugees said.

At the quayside, the migrants were handed fresh clothing and heat-retaining blankets by emergency workers.

French police earlier on Tuesday had stopped close to 50 migrants from trying to cross the Channel to Britain after mild weather and calm waters led a growing number of people to undertake the dangerous journey in recent days.

Guy Allemand, mayor of the small village of Sangatte near Calais, said some migrants had been forced by police to turn back, but that another 100 had made it to the open waters.

He told Reuters that migrant trafficking networks had recently changed their methods.

“They [traffickers] now arrive with ‘taxi boats’ and the refugees are being asked to run into the water to catch them ... rather than launching their own boats from the beach,” he said.

So far this year more than 40,000 people have crossed the Channel to Britain in small boats, up from 28,526 in 2021. Unusually mild November weather led to a hike in departures.

Earlier this month, Britain and France signed an agreement worth 72.2 million euros ($74.5 million) over the coming year to ramp up joint efforts to prevent illegal migrants making perilous journeys across the Channel.

Australian parliament censures former PM Morrison over secret ministries

Updated 30 November 2022

Australian parliament censures former PM Morrison over secret ministries

  • It marks the first time a former prime minister has been censured by parliament, though the motion is symbolic in nature

SYDNEY: Australia’s parliament on Wednesday voted to censure former Liberal prime minister Scott Morrison after an inquiry found his secret appointment to multiple ministries during the COVID-19 pandemic undermined trust in government.
Morrison, who lost power in a general election in May, secretly accumulated five ministerial roles during the pandemic: health, finance, treasury, resources and home affairs.
The historic motion, brought by the ruling Labor party, passed by 86 votes to 50 in the country’s lower house.
It marks the first time a former prime minister has been censured by parliament, though the motion is symbolic in nature.
“The fact is, that our democracy is precious,” Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said during the debate, speaking in favor of censuring Morrison.
“There’s no room for complacency.”
Morrison has said his decisions were lawful, and that the decision was necessary in case ministers became incapacitated during the pandemic.
“For those who wish to add their judgment today on my actions in supporting this censure motion, I simply suggest that they stop and consider the following: have you ever had to deal with a crisis where the outlook was completely unknown?,” Morrison said in parliament before the vote on Wednesday.
“In such circumstances, were you able to get all the decisions perfectly right?“
Morrison said he had only used the powers on one occasion, to block BPH Energy’s PEP-11 gas exploration project.
He accepted the recommendations of an inquiry into the appointment, including legislation requiring public notice of ministerial appointments.