UN envoy defends failure to include Afghan women in upcoming meeting with the Taliban in Qatar

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations' top official in Afghanistan defended the failure to include Afghan women in the upcoming first meeting between the Taliban and envoys from 22 countries, insisting that demands for women’s rights are certain to be raised.

U.N. special envoy Roza Otunbayeva was pummeled with questions Friday from journalists about criticism from human rights organizations at the omission of Afghan women from the meeting in Qatar’s capital, Doha, on June 30 and July 1.

The Taliban seized power in 2021 as United States and NATO forces withdrew following two decades of war. No country officially recognizes them as Afghanistan’s government, and the U.N. has said that recognition is almost impossible while bans on female education and employment remain in place.

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Tirana Hassan said that, in the face of the Taliban’s tightening repression of women and girls, the U.N. plans to hold a meeting “without women’s rights on the agenda or Afghan women in the room are shocking.”

Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said, “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.”

Otunbayeva, a former president and foreign minister of Kyrgyzstan, insisted after briefing the U.N. Security Council that “nobody dictated” conditions to the United Nations about the Doha meeting, but she confirmed that no Afghan women will be present.

U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo will chair the meeting, Otunbayeva said. She will attend, and a few of the 22 special envoys on Afghanistan who are women will also be there.

The meeting is the third U.N.-sponsored gathering on the Afghan crisis in Doha. The Taliban weren’t invited to the first, and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said they set unacceptable conditions for attending the second in February, including demands that Afghan civil society members be excluded from the talks and that they be treated as the country’s legitimate rulers.

Undersecretary-General DiCarlo visited Afghanistan in May and invited the Taliban Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, to attend the upcoming meeting. The Taliban accepted and said they are sending a delegation.

“We do hope that delegation will be led by de facto Foreign Minister Muttaqi,” Otunbayeva said, but the Taliban may send another minister.

Just before the Doha gathering, there will be a hybrid meeting with Afghan civil society representatives from inside and outside the country, Otunbayeva said. And on July 2, immediately after Doha, “we’ll be meeting all the civil society people.”

The Taliban have used their interpretation of Islamic law to bar girls from education beyond age 11, ban women from public spaces, exclude them from many jobs, and enforce dress codes and male guardianship requirements.

Otunbayeva said the upcoming gathering will be the first face-to-face meeting between the Taliban and the envoys and will focus on what she said were “the most important acute issues of today” — private business and banking, and counter-narcotics policy.

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 provide them also access to businesses.” She added that “if there are, let’s say, 5 million addicted people in Afghanistan, more than 30% are women.”

Otunbayeva told the Security Council the U.N. hopes the envoys and the Taliban delegation will speak to each other, recognize the need to engage, and “agree on next steps to alleviate the uncertainties that face the Afghan people.”

The U.N. expects a continuation of the dialogue at a fourth Doha meeting later in the year focused on another key issue: the impact of climate change on the country.

Lisa Doughten, the U.N. humanitarian office’s finance director, told the council that “the particularly acute effects of climate change” are deepening Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis, saying over 50% of the population — some 23.7 million people — need humanitarian aid this year, the third-highest number in the world.

“Extreme weather events are more frequent and more intense,” she said. “Some areas in Afghanistan have warmed at twice the global average since 1950” with the country experiencing increasing droughts and deadly flash flooding.

Otunbayeva said another outcome from the Doha meeting that the U.N. would like to see is the creation of working groups to continue talks on how to help farmers replace poppies producing opium with other crops, how to provide pharmacies with medication to help addicted people, and how to address crime and improve banking and private businesses.

As for what the U.N. would like to see, she said, “we need badly that they will change their minds and let girls go to school.”

Otunbayeva said Afghanistan is the only country in the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation that doesn’t let girls go to school, which she called “a big puzzle.” Afghanistan has been very male-dominated and “we want to change the minds” of young people from such a traditional society towards women, Otunbayeva said.

The humanitarian office’s Doughten told the council “the ban on girls’ education is fueling an increase in child marriage and early childbearing, with dire physical, emotional and economic consequences.” She also cited reports that attempted suicides by women and girls are increasing.

Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press