Afghan women’s ‘erasure’ at UN’s Doha talks with Taliban sparks anger

Officials from the UN confirmed that their talks with the Taliban next week in Doha on the future of war-torn Afghanistan will be held without the presence of Afghan women at the table.

This will be the first meeting between the Taliban and 22 other international envoys since the takeover of Kabul by the group in 2021 after the US and Nato forces left the country.

Roza Otunbayeva, the UN special envoy for Afghanistan, defended the decision to keep women and civil society members out of the crucial talks.

She said “nobody dictated” conditions to the UN on the Doha meeting but added that no Afghan women will be present.

“[The Taliban] are not like us. The Taliban have come from the mountains and from war, and turning them into people who sit at the negotiation table and accept our principles is not easy,” she told reporters at a press conference in New York.

A Taliban delegation is expected from Kabul. Human rights groups and experts monitoring the hardline Islamist regime, which banished women and girls from public spaces and took away their right to study and work, called upon the UN to mandatorily ensure the presence of Afghan women at the table.

Activists said women have been excluded due to the Taliban’s preconditions.

“Not a single woman will be present during the Doha talks between the UN and Taliban. Without a doubt, the erasure of Afghan women and girls is the most pressing issue the country faces. To ignore this, and appease the Taliban as they wish, undermines the entire UN system,” said Sara Wahedi, an Afghan-Canadian entrepreneur.

“I should add that the Taliban has explicitly said that even the mention of the topic of women will result in them walking out of talks,” she said on X.

The upcoming dialogue is being held to discuss the war-torn nation’s future, economic crisis, drug addiction impacting millions and stability in the region, and excludes talks on women’s and humanitarian rights violations by the Taliban.

The UN plans to hold a meeting “without women’s rights on the agenda or Afghan women in the room are shocking”, said Human Rights Watch executive director Tirana Hassan, citing the Taliban’s tightening repression of women and girls in Afghanistan.

“The credibility of this meeting will be in tatters if it doesn’t adequately address the human rights crisis in Afghanistan and fails to involve women human rights defenders and other relevant stakeholders from Afghan civil society,” Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard.

The UN’s undersecretary-general Rosemary A DiCarlo had visited Afghanistan in May and invited the Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. Ms DiCarlo will chair the meeting, ms Otunbayeva said. “We do hope that the delegation will be led by de facto foreign minister Muttaqi,” she said, adding that the Taliban may send another minister.

The talks will be about private business and banking in Afghanistan and counter-narcotics policy, she said, calling them the “most important acute issues of today”.

Both are about women, she said, and the envoys will tell the Taliban: “Look, it doesn’t work like this. We should have women around the table. We should also provide them access to businesses.

“If there are, let’s say, five million addicted people in Afghanistan, more than 30 per cent are women,” she said.

The talks in Doha, the third such UN-sponsored dialogue on the Afghan crisis in Qatar capital, will see the Taliban delegation making their first appearance after rejecting an invitation for the previous session at the last minute, citing the presence of civil society members.

In February, the Taliban told the UN that they will only attend on the condition that the civil society members, including women, will be excluded from the talks and that they should be treated as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers. Their demands were struck down by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who called them “unacceptable conditions”.