Afghanistan, world’s most repressive country for women and girls, says UN

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The UN mission in Afghanistan has labelled the country as the world’s most repressive for women and girls and criticised the Taliban’s draconian restrictions.

The Taliban, who seized control of the country in August 2021, “have demonstrated an almost singular focus on imposing rules that leave most women and girls effectively trapped in their homes”, said mission head Roza Otunbayeva.

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Confining women to their homes is not only a “colossal act of national self-harm” but condemns generations to come to a life of poverty, she said.

The remarks, released ahead of International Women’s Day, come a few days after universities resumed lectures following the winter break — but without their female students.

Grave fears for women’s rights were confirmed after the group’s takeover of Afghanistan, 20 years after it was last in power.

Despite feeble claims that it would protect women’s rights, the Taliban barred women from attending university in December and barred them from working for aid groups a month later.

Women are also not allowed in most public spaces, including parks, gyms and swimming pools.

While access to lower-level schooling varies by region, most girls in grade six or above are barred from pursuing an education, and schools that have stayed open have been the targets of horrific attacks.

More than 50 students, mainly girls, were killed in a suicide bombing at a Kabul school in October — one of several deadly attacks in recent years.

The UN said the Taliban have issued an “almost constant stream” of restrictions on women’s freedoms since they returned to power, often beating women and girls who have taken to the streets for months to protest against the rulings.

The statement echoed remarks made by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday.

Mr Guterres said “we will never give up fighting for the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan” and denounced their erasure from public life.

Male students have also protested against the restrictions on women’s education, with some boycotting classes, while several professors have resigned from their positions.

“If we want to be a civilised country, [the gates of universities] should be reopened to all of our citizens without gender, religious and geographic difference,” university lecturer Murtaza Hossieni told Tolo news.

Nasir, a student who did not give his surname, said “we are happy that the universities have been reopened but we are disappointed that our sisters have not been able to participate”.

In Balkh, literature students have refused to attend lectures until their female classmates are also allowed to do so, the Hasht e Subh newspaper has reported.