As Afghanistan returns to an acute crisis, Soroptimist International is extremely concerned about the impacts of a return to Taliban rule on women and girls. Over recent decades significant progress has been made supporting the realisation of women’s and girls’ rights in Afghanistan to the benefit of individuals, families, communities, and the country. Many young women and girls have never lived under oppressive rule – they have been free to pursue their education, careers, and ambitions. These hard-won freedoms cannot be lost and belong to all women and girls everywhere. Soroptimist International stands in solidarity with the women and girls of Afghanistan and encourages the international community to do the same.
It is clear that many Afghans are fearful of what is to come for them and their country, as shown by the distressing images of people risking everything in trying to flee their home. The people of Afghanistan have already faced over 20 years of conflict, and now are entering one of the fastest-growing humanitarian crises in the world. With drought having been declared earlier this year, the country is facing a triple threat of conflict, COVID and climate change with 18 million people already in need of humanitarian assistance and thousands of people internally displaced. As with all humanitarian crises, the international community has a responsibility to ensure all people, including women and girls, have access to safe water and sanitation facilities, food, shelter, education, and health services. SI calls for the immediate mobilisation of aid to secure these basic rights for Afghan women and girls. All countries have a responsibility to support and protect women and girls fleeing violence and extreme oppression and to fulfil this duty countries must immediately recognise the refugee status of women and girls, and implement safe, orderly, regular and legal migration routes that will keep women and girls protected from harm.
With conflict escalating, we know that there will be dramatic impacts upon women and girls who are always disproportionately impacted by conflict. Already the International Criminal Court has expressed concern about crimes in Afghanistan that may amount to violation of international humanitarian law.  Reports include allegations of the persecution of women and girls, crimes against children, crimes against civilians and the revenge killings of detainees and individuals who have surrendered. Further reports allege human rights abuses in Taliban-held areas, including early, child and forced marriages, house-to-house searches for “collaborators” and extrajudicial killings, all of which must be investigated and opposed. Additionally, all forms of sexual and gender-based violence must be immediately addressed, women and girls protected, and perpetrators of crimes brought to justice. Specific efforts must be made to protect women human rights defenders and other women and girls considered “collaborators” because they sought to empower others, or they pursued education and their careers.
The challenges Afghan women and girls have encountered in the past and may soon encounter again are unimaginable for many. Sadly, across the world these challenges are too common. In many countries women and girls face significant human rights abuses, and Soroptimist International has always worked to combat these human rights violations. Regardless of where these abuses happen, and who perpetrates or enables them, it is critical that these violations end immediately. We must unite to protect women and girls, and at this time particularly the women and girls of Afghanistan.