UN’s gender mainstreaming takes a back seat

UN’s gender mainstreaming takes a back seat

The decision to exclude women civil society leaders and the topic of women’s rights from Doha’s third meeting on Afghanistan overturns all that the UN has done for gender mainstreaming

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Last Updated : 11 July 2024, 06:32 IST

On July 1, the third Doha format meeting concluded, marking the first participation of the De Facto Taliban government. However, civil society actors, particularly women, were notably absent from the main meeting. Led by United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, the meeting did not prioritise women's issues and human rights. Instead, special sessions focused on the private sector and counter-narcotics.

Reports suggest that the Taliban regime played a significant role in setting the agenda and determining the attendee list, leading the UN to exclude civil society representation from the main meeting. Instead, the UN and some special envoys engaged with civil society interlocutors at a side event held on July 2, following the main meeting.

After the meeting, at a press conference, DiCarlo stated, “The concerns and views of Afghan women and civil society were front and center. For the United Nations, the meaningful inclusion of women in political and peace processes is a guiding principle.” However, just before the meeting, the Taliban’s spokesperson clarified that issues concerning women are Afghanistan’s internal matter and will be handled by the Taliban officials as per Islamic law.

The Taliban’s refusal to engage with Afghan women leaders and the UN’s acquiescence to this demand sets a troubling precedent for gender mainstreaming, particularly in political and peace processes — a priority the UN and its subsidiaries have championed for years.

This exclusion has been criticised by human rights organisations and noted by the UN’s own Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. In a press release before the meeting, the committee warned, “The failure to include Afghan civil society, including women human rights defenders, as meaningful participants in the Doha discussions, will render the rights of women and girls inadequately addressed.”

The committee oversees one of the most vital human rights doctrines, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Article 7 of CEDAW mandates the adoption of all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life. This principle is reiterated in CEDAW’s General Recommendation 23, specifically in clause 5, which emphasises that Article 7 also encompasses civil society participation.

This recommendation is particularly significant as it highlights that, during times of crisis, the exclusion of women from decision-making processes effectively silences their voices. It also notes that a country's cultural values and religious beliefs can significantly hinder women's participation in public life. Despite this 1997 recommendation, which stresses on these issues, the UN's decision to engage with the Taliban without Afghan women at the table jeopardises the future of these women and their rights.

The exclusion of Afghan women and women's rights from the main meeting is concerning because the majority of UN literature, including the documents mentioned above, highlights how such exclusion is detrimental to women's status in all areas of society. Even the UN Secretary-General, in his report on women's full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, states, “When women are not consulted or included in decision-making on issues that have a direct impact on their lives, such as education, health, economic development, and conflict resolution, policy outcomes are likely to be harmful and ineffective and to lead to the violation of women’s rights.”

The third Doha meeting on Afghanistan not only departs from the UN's efforts on gender mainstreaming but also sets a precedent that may make it more challenging to hold member states accountable for their commitments to women's rights.

With the conclusion of this meeting and the precedent it has set, it is crucial to focus on improving past actions. The discussion points deliberated with civil society leaders at the side event are yet to be communicated to the de facto Taliban regime. The immediate action for the UN should be to convey the takeaways from the side event, to advance what DiCarlo has termed a “step for step approach.”

Additionally, the UN offices responsible for facilitating dialogue on Afghanistan must firmly prioritise human rights, as peace cannot supersede the rights of marginalised communities. The UN must revisit its commitments made under UN Security Council resolution 2721 (2023) “to ensure the full, equal, meaningful and safe participation of Afghan women in the process throughout.”

Gender mainstreaming and women's rights are not just internal issues of Afghanistan to dictate, but are imperative for upholding human rights globally.

(Arkoprabho Hazra is a former manager at Aakhya India. X: @ArkoprabhoH)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.


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