Whether as peacebuilders, humanitarians or pivotal actors courageously pushing their communities forward, Afghan women must be given the space to lead if the country is to find peace and progress, the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet stressed in a statement on Thursday.

Speaking from Kabul, where she is listening to women share their experiences – and talking to the de facto Taliban authorities about the urgent, critical need to bring an end to the serious human rights violations that women and girls face – Ms. Bachelet said Afghan women have been threatened and attacked for speaking up, and excluded from positions of power.

Courageous advocates​

“But this has not stopped them from advocating courageously for their rights and creating networks of support,” she said. “They are not passive bystanders.”

Indeed, in the face of war, extreme poverty and unspeakable violence, she said Afghan women have been working tirelessly to protect and provide for their families and communities.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed that girls should be able to go to school and university, and empowered to contribute robustly to the future of their country.

Women should be visibly represented in the police force, courts of law, Government and the private sector – indeed in every sphere of civic and public life.

Moreover, Afghan women have the equal right to demonstrate peacefully without fear of reprisal, to speak openly about the problems in society and to have a meaningful seat at the table, to craft solutions that respond to their realities and demands, she said.

Having served as Minister for Defence and Minister for Health in Chile, her home country, she said she speaks from experience in understanding that sustainable peace, economic development and realization of the rights to health care, education, justice “and more” requires the inclusion of women and girls.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, observed on 8 March, “I stand with women all around the world,” she said. “And I stand with the women and girls of Afghanistan, today and every day.”

Denial of rights, stifling growth​

Earlier in the week, Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) emphasized on 8 March that women’s denial of rights to free movement, work, participation in public life and education, is limiting greater economic development for the country.

“More needs to be done to promote equality of opportunity for women and girls in all areas of their lives,” she stressed, a point similarly echoed by Mariam Safi, who – addressing the Security Council on 2 March – noted the rapid deterioration of women’s rights since the Taliban seized power, in August 2021. “Repression of women’s rights appears central to the Taliban’s vision for Afghanistan,” she warned.

Young girls work on a robotics project in Afghanistan.

© UNICEF/Frank Dejo

Young girls work on a robotics project in Afghanistan.

A mandate to participate​

Peacebuilding in Afghanistan has been intrusive, externally driven, top‑down and technocratic for two decades, as powerful countries exploited the process for their own ends, she said.

Given those conditions, UNAMA must have an explicit mandate to support the full, safe, equal and meaningful participation of women across all processes, she added.