The United Nations held its High-Level Ministerial Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan yesterday in Geneva both virtually and in person. The meeting, which included UN member states, UN agencies, and humanitarian organizations, intended to raise awareness regarding the deteriorating situation and acute humanitarian needs in Afghanistan, as well as galvanize support for humanitarian responses. The conference was convened by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Stephanie Johanssen, associate director of advocacy and the UN representative for the Women’s Refugee Commission, delivered this statement on behalf of WRC:
Excellencies, distinguished delegates,
The Women’s Refugee Commission welcomes today’s timely convening, when thousands of Afghans, in particular women human rights defenders, journalists, and minorities, remain in grave danger.
Just yesterday, the Taliban announced new restrictions on women’s human rights, and reports of abuses continue, including revenge killings and child, early, and forced marriage. The pictures of brave Afghan women protesting should remind us all: the human rights of women and girls are non-negotiable. These rights include the right to work, the right to quality education, the right to sexual and reproductive freedom, freedom of movement, and the right to be free from violence.
We call on UN and member states to listen, support, and fund the work of Afghan women human rights defenders and humanitarians, including through mechanisms such as the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund.
Again and again, Afghan women have sounded the alarm but were ignored. And I would be remiss not to note that Afghan women remain largely absent from today’s conference. Last week, Afghan women’s rights activist Wazhma Frogh gave a sobering briefing in the UN Security Council and I quote: “So much damage has been done. So much avoidable, unnecessary damage. If we together don’t act now—urgently—the repercussions will be felt across the region and globally.”
Thousands of Afghans, including women leaders and their colleagues, are still waiting for their evacuation and protection, which must continue to be a priority, including by providing safe passage over land. Ensuring the right to seek asylum is not a political decision, it’s a matter of life and death and an obligation under international law.
We join our colleagues to demand unfettered humanitarian access and humanitarian aid without discrimination that takes into account the specific needs of displaced populations, including women, girls, LGBTQ+ individuals, women with disabilities, and ethnic minorities.
We are alarmed about reports of female humanitarians being hindered to carry out their work. Women must enjoy safe, equal, and unrestricted access to deliver lifesaving services and their full, equal, and meaningful participation in humanitarian action is critical to identify the priorities and needs of women and girls; mitigating risks of gender-based violence; and providing essential health care such as maternal and reproductive services.
Afghanistan is a prime example of how peace fails when women’s voices are excluded and power relations are given priority. We must do everything in our power to uphold their rights and support Afghan women at this critical time.
Learn more about WRC’s work on the current Afghanistan crisis.