The deputy secretary-general of the UN on Wednesday called on Muslim countries to unite in their efforts to put pressure on the Taliban to modernize and move “from the 13th century to the 21st.”
Amina Mohammed was speaking after returning from a two-week official visit to Afghanistan
, during which she attempted to persuade Taliban officials to reverse their recent decisions to deny Afghan women and girls access to education beyond the sixth grade and ban women from working for humanitarian organizations, among other restrictions of their rights.
Mohammed, the highest-ranking female official at the UN, told Arab News the Taliban government, the authority of which is not recognized by any other country, craves international recognition and wants to assume Afghanistan
’s seat at the UN, which is still held by the previous government led by former President Ashraf Ghani.
Taliban fighters took control of the capital, Kabul, on Aug. 15, 2021, after US and NATO forces withdrew from Afghanistan
after 20 years of war.
It is important to maximize whatever leverage is available to steer the Taliban toward the universal principles that underpin participation in the international community, Mohammed said.
“No one objects to a Muslim country or Shariah,” she said. “But all of this cannot be re-engineered to extremism and taking views that harm women and girls. This is absolutely unacceptable and we should hold the line.”
She said the Taliban officials she met “spoke off one script” and highlighted what they consider to be their achievements in protecting Afghan women, efforts for which they complained they had not received international recognition.
Mohammed said she and her delegation pushed back against this Taliban narrative, telling them “their definition of protection would be ours of oppression.”
She added: “We reminded them that in humanitarian principles, nondiscrimination was a key part … and that they were wiping out women from the workplace.
“We reminded them that even in the case where they talked about the rights (and) edicts that they had promulgated for protecting women, they were giving rights with the one hand and taking away with the other, and that was not acceptable.”
Mohammed said she had used everything she had in her diplomatic “toolbox” to try to defend and restore the rights of women in Afghanistan
“One of those (tools) was to tell them that I, like them, was a Sunni Muslim,” she said. “They are the Hanafi school of thought, I am the Maliki school of thought and both are right.
“However, when it comes to preventing women’s education and their rights, we don’t see eye-to-eye on that and the ultimate judge will be God. And a lot of what they’ve done is harming people.”
Before arriving in Kabul, Mohammed’s delegation visited other Muslim-majority countries, including Turkey, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, where she said there was widespread opposition to the Taliban assault on women’s rights.
“Every time I went to one of these Muslim countries, they did reinforce the fact that Islam did not ban women from education or from the workplace,” she said.
Mohammed discussed with Taliban officials in Kandahar the progress in Saudi Arabia in recent years on women’s rights but said they were quick to respond that they are “not on the same page” as the Kingdom on the issue.
“So it’s very important that the Muslim countries come together and establish it,” she said. “It is difficult; we do not have a pope in Islam, we have a Qur’an and we have different schools of thought — but we do have rights in Islam.
“I reminded the Taliban that (if) it is women in business (we are talking about), the first wife of the Prophet … was a businesswoman that funded Islam. Khadija funded Islam. If it was (about) coming for more knowledge and advice and guidance, it was the younger wife, Aisha, who gives that.
“‘Iqra’ (read) is the first word in the Qur’an and (Islam) is a religion of light. It’s a living religion and I think that a lot of what we have to deal with is how we (move) the Taliban from the 13th century to the 21st. And that’s a journey, so it is not just, you know, overnight.”
Mohammed said it has been proposed that the UN and the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation co-host an international conference in March focusing on women in the Muslim world. She said she has also asked for the inclusion of more women in OIC delegations.
“It’s very important that the Muslim countries come together,” she said. “We have to take the fight to the region.
“We have to, within Islam, talk much more to the moderates about what this means, not just for Afghanistan
but the narrative of other Muslim countries where we are having huge pushback, whether it is Iran or it is Yemen. We have to be clear that this is about women in the Muslim world.”