Aid to Afghanistan under Taliban rule can be made conditional on education for girls and women, a panel of high-level speakers says at UN.

This picture taken on September 20, 2021 shows a young female student jumping over a skipping rope at the Gawhar Shad Begum school in Herat.
This picture taken on September 20, 2021 shows a young female student jumping over a skipping rope at the Gawhar Shad Begum school in Herat. (AFP)

Aid to Afghanistan should be made conditional to ensure the protection of women's rights and access to education under the rule of the Taliban government, a panel of high-level speakers has said at the United Nations.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said on Friday that "by and large, we're very concerned" about measures restricting girls' access to education since the Taliban took control of the country following the US withdrawal and collapse of the US-backed Afghan government in August.

"I think the international community here, first and foremost, has to draw on the expertise, on the leadership of Afghan women... to stop the reversal, to remain in school," she said in the UN panel that focused on ways to support girls' education in Afghanistan.

The virtual discussion took place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, where the Taliban has requested to speak as representatives of Afghanistan.

Mohammed said aid to Afghanistan can "absolutely" be made conditional on education for girls and women. 

She said the United Nations and the international community can help ensure Afghanistan's economy does not collapse and that educators and health care workers continue to be paid.

"This is where we have to really resolve that recognition comes with your ability to be part of a global family that has a certain set of values and rights that must be adhered to," she said. 

"Education is up front and centre, especially for girls and for women."

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Segregation and dress code

Since taking control of the country last month, Taliban has allowed younger girls and boys back to school. 

But in grades six to 12, it has allowed only boys back to school along with their male teachers.

The United Nations says 4.2 million children are not enrolled in school in Afghanistan, and 60 percent of them girls.

Taliban has also said female university students will face restrictions, such as a compulsory dress code, and will not be allowed in the same classrooms as their male counterparts. Additionally, the subjects being taught will be reviewed, the new government said.

Afghanistan, which relies heavily on foreign aid, faces near total poverty resulting from political instability, frozen foreign reserves, and a collapsed public finance system. 

This month, UN donors pledged more than $1.2 billion in emergency assistance to help provide a lifeline to Afghanistan.

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Leverage in Afghanistan

The executive director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, said such aid gives the United Nations some leverage in tackling both the "humanitarian emergency" and the emerging "human rights emergency" in Afghanistan. 

UNICEF is responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children.

The Taliban, while promising inclusivity and an open government, have excluded women from their all-male Cabinet and set up a ministry for the "propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice" in the building that once housed the Women's Affairs Ministry.

During the previous era of Taliban rule in the 1990s, before they were ousted by a US-led invasion, girls and women were denied an education and were excluded from public life.

More than 100,000 people have fled Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover last month, including thousands of female activists, students, and intellectuals.

Activist Malala Yousafzai, who serves as a UN "messenger of peace," said the world cannot make compromises on the protection of women's rights. 

Yousafzai was shot in the head on her way home from school as a teenager in 2012 by a gunman of the Pakistani Taliban in Pakistan's Swat Valley for her campaigning for girls' education.

The Taliban's "atrocities are countless," she said. "My worry is that this will continue in Afghanistan. My worry is that the same situation will repeat all over again."

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Rights of women 'not outside of Islam'

The first revelation of the Quran that came to the Prophet Muhammad was "Iqra," which means "read", said Fawzia Koofi, first woman deputy speaker of parliament in Afghanistan. 

She spoke on the panel from Qatar.

"To the international community... my message would be to emphasize on girls' return to school," Koofi said. 

Mohammed, the UN deputy secretary-general, noted the Prophet Muhammad's wife, Khadija, was a successful businesswoman whom he supported in her business — an observation she said can be used by countries in the region to show that "you're not outside of Islam, you're not outside of the preachings of the Quran when we promote the rights of women and girls."

READ MORE: Taliban plea for UN recognition reveals a weak hand

Source: AP