US Warns of Costs if Taliban Do Not Reverse Bans on Women

The United States has been assessing the impact of the Afghan Taliban’s ban on the employment of women by nongovernmental organizations while pondering policy options that may be unveiled soon.

“We’re committed to standing up for women wherever their rights are threatened, including in Afghanistan, as unfortunately we continue to see deepen and get worse,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday at the launch of the first U.S. Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security.

Senior U.S. officials have repeatedly urged the Taliban to reverse bans preventing women from working for NGOs and attending public and private universities, warning of costs.

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said Washington was examining “specific consequences that can be levied against the Taliban,” but it did not give details.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at the briefing that the U.S. was working with like-minded partners around the world to “devise an appropriate set of consequences that register our condemnation” of the Taliban while supporting the Afghan people.

Price added that the U.S. policy response would be careful not to further imperil the humanitarian well-being of the Afghan people.

The Taliban want better relations with the rest of the world and have publicly asked countries to invest in Afghanistan. But, the U.S. said, the Taliban are under a “faulty illusion” that they can have it both ways — that they can deprive Afghan women of rights while hoping to strengthen ties with other countries.

Education bans

Throughout 2022, the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan introduced and enforced some of the worst gender-based discriminatory policies seen anywhere.

In late December, the Taliban banned women from universities, further restricting women’s education. Shortly after the returning to power in August 2021, the Taliban excluded girls from secondary schools.

Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is the only country where girls are banned from schools because of their gender.

On December 24, the Taliban issued an order barring foreign and domestic humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan from employing women. Any group that fails to comply will have its license revoked. A coalition of 11 NGOs has had to suspend operations in Afghan as a result, according to the State Department.

“This is political. This is not religious,” Rina Amiri, U.S. special envoy for Afghan women, girls and human rights, told VOA’s Deewa Service in a recent Skype interview.

“Every Muslim majority representative that I spoke to in the world — whether it’s Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Malaysia — every country that I’ve spoken to has said what the Taliban is doing is hurting the image of Islam everywhere,” Amiri said.

Some see the Taliban’s decision to ban women’s education as a sign of an internal rift.

“It’s a hard-line element within the Taliban that is seeking to consolidate its power and to project that power,” Amiri said.

On Wednesday, the State Department unveiled its interagency strategy to advance women’s economic security globally. The goal is to promote equal access to education, innovation and quality jobs for women and girls worldwide.

“Closing the gender gap in the global workforce could unleash an additional contribution of $5.3 trillion to global GDP [gross domestic product], increasing economic security and prosperity for all,” the State Department said.

U.S. government agencies will formulate individual action plans within six months of Wednesday’s release of the strategy that will inform U.S. foreign policy, international programming and development assistance.

American officials said the U.S. would continue to support Afghan women through the Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund, which invests in local and civil society partners around the world.  

VOA’s Deewa Service contributed to this report.

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