Taliban Geneva talks: 'Guarantees for Afghan women’s rights were nowhere to be found’

Women in Burka in Kunduz City on humanitarian Aid. (Photo: Wanman Uthmaniyyah/ Unsplash)

A 10-member Taliban delegation made promises in Geneva last week to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. While these commitments are essential for a country on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, there can be no progress without explicit guarantees for women. But these were nowhere to be found, writes Afghan journalist Tooba Neda Safi. 

After a week of closed-door meetings, the humanitarian organisation Geneva Call, which organised the visit, published a statement on Friday by the Taliban’s delegation, agreeing to “facilitate humanitarian action in Afghanistan, to ensure the protection of humanitarian workers and aid, to promote the full respect and protection of healthcare facilities as well as transports and staff, including female workers”.

 Other points like the protection of “all Afghans”, including a reference to the continuation of their education, are also mentioned in the statement. But contrary to women's expectations, there was no direct reference to the restoration of women's rights in Afghanistan. 

Although the issues discussed with the Taliban are vital for Afghanistan, with more than half of its population now living below the poverty line, any humanitarian progress would be imperfect if women continue to be deprived of their rights. 

Today in Afghanistan many women don’t have the right to work. This is one of the main causes of poverty in Afghanistan as many were the sole breadwinners in their families, and now they have no choice but to beg. 

Women who have raised their voices and taken part in recent protests have been detained by the Taliban. Women have also been banned from school and excluded from the public sphere, as the UN has warned and as the testimonies that I have gathered throughout the course of the past months have shown. 

Rights activists, journalists, judicial staff, female athletes, university students and other female activists told me that they were worried about their uncertain future. I can understand them because I had the same experience as a woman growing up in Kabul when the Taliban was first in power in the 1990s. 

We expected the international community to ensure that the Taliban restore our rights. So, all these restrictive measures against women should have been addressed at the Geneva discussions and a commitment should have been made by the Taliban.

The organisations that met with the Taliban assured us that they repeatedly brought up the rights of women, but the meeting was lacking in transparency. The details of the visit were initially kept from the media. Geneva Solutions only learned about the meeting through its own sources. In addition, Afghan women were not invited to the table to represent themselves. This was one of the reasons why a group of Afghan women gathered last Wednesday outside the hotel in Geneva where the Taliban were staying.

This visit is also a step further in the Taliban’s long game to obtain international recognition. Last month, Taliban representatives went to Oslo for talks with members of several western governments and this month they came  to Geneva as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA).

Both Geneva Call and the Swiss department of foreign affairs stressed that the talks were neither meant to provide legitimacy or diplomatic recognition of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.  Yet in the final conference statement and Geneva Call’s press release, the group is referred to by their de facto name, the  “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA)”, suggesting that they are the legitimate government of the state.

The Taliban is a militant group that has not been recognised by any country as the legitimate government because it is neither an elected government that has legal legitimacy nor is it recognised by the international community as such.

All these acts indirectly give this group a political identity and legitimacy, while the Taliban have so far failed to meet the demands of the international community and have continued to violate human rights since they seized power in August 2021. As long as the Taliban refuses to recognise women’s legitimate place in society, the international community should not do the same for them.