Canada urges UN to include women in looming talks that could give Taliban legitimacy

·3 min read

OTTAWA — Canada says the United Nations' controversial move to enter dialogue with the Taliban must include women, as the organization mulls recognizing the terrorist group as the government of Afghanistan.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is set to meet with Taliban officials for closed-door talks next week in Doha, the capital of Qatar, to find what his spokesman called a "durable way forward" for Afghanistan.

Guterres' deputy, Amina Mohammed, caused a stir this month by saying the UN was pondering "a principled recognition" of the Taliban as the government.

No country has made that endorsement, although Canada has had frequent talks with the group it deems a terrorist organization in order to keep abreast of mounting humanitarian crises.

On Thursday, Canada's ambassador for women, peace, and security, Jacqueline O'Neill, endorsed a letter calling for women to be at the table.

In a tweet reposted by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, O'Neill wrote that "Afghan women must be equal partners in decision-making about the future" of their country.

"Their insights are critical to success and legitimacy," O'Neill wrote.

She posted a letter from the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, which warned Guterres that not having female leaders, persecuted minorities and human rights defenders at the meeting next week could set a grave precedent.

The letter said the meeting is a critical test for principles the UN has advocated in recent decades and needs to include diverse voices if it actually touches on who has legitimacy to speak for Afghans.

Mohammed's comments on April 17 came in a speech at Princeton University.

"Out of that, we hope that we'll find those baby steps to put us back on the pathway to recognition (of the Taliban), a principled recognition," Mohammed said.

"Is it possible? I don't know. (But) that discussion has to happen. The Taliban clearly want recognition, and that's the leverage we have."

Last month, Afghanistan's pre-Taliban ambassador to Ottawa urged Canadians to fight "gender apartheid" by isolating the regime.

Hassan Soroosh said countries should engage more with civil-society groups, sanction Taliban leaders and make ongoing talks conditional on the regime ending certain practices.

Meanwhile, members of the UN Security Council were discussing a resolution Thursday that calls on the Taliban rulers to reverse their increasingly harsh restrictions on women and girls, and condemns their ban on Afghan women working for the UN.

The draft resolution expresses "deep concern at the increasing erosion of respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls in Afghanistan by the Taliban" and reaffirms their "indispensable role" in Afghan society.

It calls on the Taliban to swiftly restore their access to education, employment, freedom of movement and equal participation in public life.

The draft urges all other UN member nations to use their influence to promote an urgent reversal of the Taliban's policies and practices toward women and girls.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press