US seeks help from Muslim nations to counter Taliban view of Afghan women

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The United States has entered into talks with Muslim-majority countries to encourage them to take the lead in pressuring the Afghan Taliban leadership not to exclude the country’s women from public life in the name of religion.

Rina Amiri, the U.S. special envoy for Afghan women, girls and human rights, told a seminar in Washington on Wednesday that she was leading the diplomatic effort to have “positional alignment.” among all international stakeholders on the issue.

The envoy, speaking virtually at a seminar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said she visited Saudi Arabia and Qatar last week and intended to travel to other Muslim-majority countries to engage them on “regressive practices” the Taliban adopts to limit women’s freedom.

“What I wrote down to them is what the Taliban is saying about women’s rights and arguing that it’s based on Sharia, it’s not just bad for Afghanistan and bad for women. Afghans, it’s bad for Islam,” Amiri said of his talks. with Saudi and Qatari officials.

“The actors who must lead and counter this narrative [are] Muslim-majority countries,” she added.

FILE – Rina Amiri speaks at a conference to protect the rights of Afghan women, in New York, May 30, 2013.

Amiri noted that many regional and Islamic countries maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and in their engagement with the Taliban they advocate for political and ethnic inclusion in government, but “very little” is said about inclusion. women.

“When they engage the Taliban, what I have asked them to do is include women in their delegation to show that women play an important and important role in their own country,” Amiri said.

The Islamist group took control of Afghanistan in August and installed an all-male caretaker government comprising mostly Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, like the Taliban themselves.

Critics say the insurgency-turned-government has rolled back women’s rights in nearly every area, including crushing women’s freedom of movement, in the past six months, despite Taliban promises they won’t bring back not the harsh policies of their previous regime from 1996 to 2001, when women were banned from education and work.

Women are not allowed to share transport with men or take long journeys without a close male relative, and taxi drivers are asked not to offer rides to female passengers who do not wear a hijab.

FILE - Women line up to receive cash at a cash distribution site organized by the World Food Program in Kabul, Afghanistan November 20, 2021.

FILE – Women line up to receive cash at a cash distribution site organized by the World Food Program in Kabul, Afghanistan November 20, 2021.

“The vast majority of girls’ secondary schools are closed. Universities have recently reopened, with new gender segregation rules. But many women cannot return, in part because the career they studied for is now banned because the Taliban has barred women from most jobs,” Human Rights Watch’s Heather Barr said in a statement Wednesday.

The Taliban reject criticism of their government, saying it meets all the conditions to be recognized as the legitimate entity and does not allow terrorist groups to operate on Afghan soil. They also strongly defend the restrictions on women, saying they are in line with Islamic principles. The radical group has promised to open secondary schools for all girls in Afghanistan this month.

Taliban leaders have traveled abroad, including to Qatar, in recent weeks for talks with Western and Islamic government officials. But they have failed to gain diplomatic legitimacy from their government due to concerns about human rights, political inclusiveness and terrorism.

Amiri said she also recently held talks in Qatar with Taliban delegates who reiterated that Kabul wanted to improve its relations with the West.

“My response was, ‘Don’t just focus on improving your relationship with the West, improve your relationship with Afghans inside the country, build trust not just by having the inclusiveness of a few actors of different ethnic groups, but an inclusive process that is transparent, that engenders trust among the population,” Amiri said.

FILE - Afghan women hold protest placards demanding broader rights, in Kabul, Afghanistan December 27, 2021.

FILE – Afghan women hold protest placards demanding broader rights, in Kabul, Afghanistan December 27, 2021.

Amiri said she also warned the Taliban that their return to power had only put the Afghan conflict on hold and that it would not end without inclusiveness.

Critics are skeptical whether conversations with the Taliban to challenge their extremely restrictive view of Islam would produce the desired results.

“I don’t think there are many people who can influence the Taliban from outside,” Anne Richard, a former US diplomat, said during the viral seminar. “But I think who can, UN officials, special envoys, potentially some governments, I think we really need to make sure that their efforts are taken seriously and pursued and we get as much information from them as possible. from the people inside Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors including Pakistan and Iran, as well as countries in the region, have all warned the Taliban that the country’s economic and humanitarian turmoil could escalate if it fails to meet international expectations. .

Last month, diplomats from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council met in Doha with representatives of Afghanistan’s de facto authorities and stressed the need for a national reconciliation plan that “respects the freedoms and rights fundamental rights, including the right of women to work and to education”.

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