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Women participants at Doha Meeting: End Gender Apartheid

On February 18 and 19, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hosted a meeting in Doha consisting of more than two dozen diplomats, envoys, and representatives of civil society groups from within and outside Afghanistan. It was the first major meeting on Afghanistan since last May.  

Metra Mehra, a women’s rights activist; Lotfullah Najafizada, a journalist and head of Amu TV; Shah Gul Rezaee, a former member of parliament; Mehbooba Siraj, a long-time NGO and civil society activist; and Kabul University professor Faiz Muhammad Zaland participated in the meeting representing civil society groups.  

The notable exclusion from the meeting was the Taliban. They had been invited to participate in Doha by the UN even though their government is not recognized by any other country in the world.  

That invitation had been widely condemned by women’s rights groups who worried that the international community was laying the groundwork to officially recognize the Taliban despite its misogynistic policies. “In the past two years that the world was waiting for Taliban to change, Taliban increased repression of people, especially vulnerable ethnicities, and women of Afghanistan,” stated Shahgul Rezaie, a former member of parliament and participant at the Doha meeting, in her statement. “The integration of the Taliban into the international system, increasing engagement with them, and recognizing them is not a solution to the problem of Afghanistan, but it will only intensify the problems.” 

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The Taliban had presented pre-conditions to the UN for its attendance, including demanding that they be the sole representatives of Afghanistan in Doha and that their delegation get a meeting with Guterres. The Taliban also wanted a guarantee that “no one at the conference would criticize the militant Islamic theocrats and how they have run the country since returning to power in August 2021,” reported Deutsche Welle, the German broadcaster.   

In his press confrence, the UN secretary-general said, he rejected those demands, as “not acceptable,” adding, “These conditions first of all denied us the right to talk to other representatives of the Afghan society and demanded a treatment that would, I would say, to a large extent be similar to recognition.” 

The day before the meeting began in Doha, the United Nations revealed in a new report that there has been a “drastic erosion of women’s rights in Afghanistan” continuing under Taliban rule. According to the UN survey, the Afghan women are firmly opposed to the official recognition of the Taliban: “Thirty-two percent of respondents stated that international recognition of the de facto authorities should happen only after reversing all restrictions, while 25 percent of them said it should follow the reversal of some specific bans and 28 percent said that recognition should not happen at all, under any circumstances.” The opposition of 85 percent of the women surveyed is a small decrease from the answer in July 2023 when 96 percent of women “maintained that recognition should only occur after improvements in women’s rights or that it should not occur at all.” 

 “The international community should refrain from any interaction with the Taliban group that leads to recognition of this group,” states Metra Mehran, who participated in the meeting wearing a T-shirt featuring the slogan, “End Gender Apartheid.” She reiterated that message during the meeting, she told Zan Times. “The situation in Afghanistan is a clear example of gender apartheid,” she says. “Women are dehumanized and deprived of all their fundamental human rights, and, therefore, the Taliban should be dealt with in international courts for the crimes they are committing.” 

Though many women are fiercely opposed to any international recognition of the Taliban, Guterres said in a news conference after the meeting that the attendees had discussed “creating the conditions, in a next meeting, to have the presence of the de facto authorities of Afghanistan.” Yet he acknowledges that there is a deadlock. “On one hand Afghanistan remains with a government that is not recognized internationally, and in many aspects not integrated in the global institutions and global economy.” For instance, UN Special Coordinator Feridun Sinirlioglu recently presented a report on how to reintegrate Afghanistan into the international economic and political system, which he notes is dependent on the Taliban meeting its international obligations, something that the clerical regime has so far refused to do.   

In front of the diplomats at the UN meeting in Doha, Metra Mehran pointed out how it has been Afghanistan’s women who continue to fight for the rights of all citizens: “We Afghans, especially women, seem to have to fight on several fronts. On the one hand, in front of the authoritarian Taliban group, and, on the other front, we have to convince the international community not to turn away from our troubles. Right in front of the eyes of the world, we are being removed from society… You do not let this calamity that is happening to us gain legitimacy, be ignored and continue.”  

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