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Since the Taliban regime took control over most of Afghanistan in September 1996 the human rights of girls and women have been denied. It is apartheid based on gender in which Afghan women are deprived of their rights to choose how to live. Banned from work, barred from receiving any education, they are not allowed to leave the home unaccompanied or to speak in public and are forced to wear the all-enveloping burqa. Health care is almost non-existent. Thousands of widows are deprived of the right to earn any livelihood for their families, their children forced to scavenge in the streets. Women are virtually under house arrest.

In the past, Afghan women, especially those living in the main cities, were widely involved in public life, be it as students, teachers, midwives, doctors, civil servants and even members of parliament. Schools and universities which were well attended by girls and female students in the past, are now closed to them. Cut off from the media - music and television are also banned - their sense of isolation and despair is deepened as they live under the impression that the world is not aware of their plight. They are voiceless living shadows - victims of gender apartheid.

This is not a religious issue, nor about local cultural traditions. In the past, no central Afghan religious authority was given exclusive rights to interpret religious precepts. It is misuse of power.

In June 1997 the United Nations Secretary-General stated that the issue of women's and girl's rights remains a priority for the United Nations and the international community. On 9 July 1997, in a statement by the President (S/PRST/1997/35), the Security Council voiced its concern over the continuing discrimination against girls and women.

The Advisory Group on Gender Issues in Afghanistan, has appealed to the Member States of the United Nations and to the Credentials Committee of the General Assembly to pay careful attention to the human rights record of the Taliban movement when considering its application for recognition by the United Nations.

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the adoption and proclamation by the UN General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states the principle of equal rights for women and men. Yet it cannot be viewed as a joyous celebration when violations of the most basic human rights continue to occur all over the world.

The Vienna and Beijing Declarations, following up on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, confirm that the human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.

Women under Taliban are frequently denied access to humanitarian aid, which is often their only means of survival in a country which has been ravaged by more than twenty years of war. With so many of their rights violated, the women of Kabul provide an extreme example of discrimination. For this reason the European Parliament called upon members of the international community to show its support for Afghan women.

The European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) backed the European Parliament's appeal by launching the 'A Flower for the Women of Kabul' campaign dedicating International Women's Day 1998 to Afghan women. "We should use International Women's Day as an opportunity to show solidarity with Afghan women who have been stripped of rights we all take for granted".

Emma Bonino, European Union Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs

As an ECHO working partner, WomenAid was pleased to support the catalytic initiative of Emma Bonino. To ensure action continues until the women regain their rights, WomenAid launched LIVING SHADOWS, an on-going solidarity campaign for the women of Afghanistan. The denial of their basic human rights is one of the most flagrant abuses of human rights in any country and has turned them into voiceless shadows. Human Rights are Women's Rights - and those who can must speak for those who cannot.


The Taliban has achieved major advances in the north of Afghanistan and took the opposition stronghold Mazari-al-Sharif.  They now control 90% of the country and are pushing to the borders of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Russia, Iran and all the Central Asia Republics are deeply concerned at the likelihood of further expansion of the Taliban's extreme interpretation of Islamic religion and the shifting balance of power.

The Taliban are poised to reap billions of dollars if oil companies develop the trans Afghanistan pipeline for gas and oil from Turkmenistan. Russia, with its historical oil interests - it would lose its existing oil revenues-is deeply opposed to this development. Iran also has oil interests and will suffer if the pipeline proceeds. Iran is also an Islamic state but, being Shi'ite Muslim, has a different religious interpretation to the Taliban who are Sunni Muslim. The whole region is involved in a critical power struggle, the outcome of which may well shape many future world events.


Abdul Hakim Mujahid, the newly appointed Taliban permanent envoy-designate to the United Nations has said Taliban has prepared a letter of credential and intends to forcefully plead a case at the UN Credential Committee meeting. "It is unfair to deprive Taliban of their right to represent Afghanistan in the United Nations despite the fact they control more than 90 per cent of Afghan territory including the capital Kabul,'  he said. The de jure recognition of Taliban by the international community would pave the way to the lucrative oil deals and ensure the enormous wealth of extreme fundamentalists.  Many believe  governments will be condoning the most appalling and wide-spread human rights violations in any country in the world if recognition is given to a Taliban led Afghanistan..

Women under the subjugation of Taliban are deprived of any meaningful existence.  They are denied their basic rights - to education, to work, to travel freely, to gather together, to express their views and concerns. There has been a dramatic increase in suicides of women who cannot cope with their virtual 'imprisonment' by Taliban decrees.  Responding to growing international criticism of its treatment of females, Afghanistan's Taliban Deputy Information Minister, Abdul Rehman Ottaqi said "Islam gives full rights to women and we, too, uphold women's rights."

Let the women of Afghanistan know they are not forgotten - speak up for them! Victims of an oppressive regime, Afghan women may have lost their freedom but not their voice - if you Take Action.

Individuals and organisations are invited to participate in the Living Shadows Campaign and to add their signatures to a petition urging all member governments of the United Nations to withhold recognition of any regime in Afghanistan until women's rights are restored, and to work towards the restoration of fundamental human rights. Petition signatures are presented to Mrs Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  

Join the Women of Afghanistan. Let them know they are 
not alone in their brave fight against repression.


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