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WASHINGTON —The U.S. Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls and Human Rights says the international community continues to be united around the necessity of Afghan women's rights.
In an interview with VOA's Afghan Service late Monday, Rina Amiri said that the international community has "made it clear to the Taliban that ... if they do not restore the rights of women and girls ... there's going to be no progress in terms of further normalization on any of the issues with which the Taliban seeks to make progress."
An experienced diplomat who served in various posts at the United Nations, Amiri also served as an adviser to U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke under the Obama administration.
Amiri spoke to VOA via Skype. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VOA: It has been more than 500 days since the Taliban banned girls from attending school. No international pressure has worked on the Taliban. Do the U.S. and the international community have any plans to force the Taliban change their policies toward girls' education?
Rina Amiri: The international community, the U.S. and many of the interlocutors that I spoke to have made it clear to the Taliban that if they do not take the right course in terms of respecting the rights of the Afghan population, if they do not restore the rights of women and girls, particularly the right to education and work, there's going to be no progress in terms of further normalization on any of the issues with which the Taliban seeks to make progress.
But what we see is that the Taliban continues to prioritize its internal politics over the fate of the Afghan population. And that is one really important factor that has hindered progress on the situation of women and girls.
VOA: Thousands of women lost jobs as a result of the Taliban's takeover of Kabul and its subsequent anti-women policies. In what ways is the U.S. helping these women? Is the U.S. still engaged with issues that Afghan women are facing?
Amiri: The situation of women and girls continues to be a significant priority for the United States. The U.S. is the only government thus far that has established an office specifically dedicated to the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. I think that that in itself should signify how important this issue is to the [U.S.] government in terms of what is being done. The Taliban's recent decree in December, which banned women from working for NGOs, it not only had a devastating impact on women but on the country as a whole. It affected both women's and men's jobs. And it has had a very devastating impact on being able to reach the most vulnerable Afghans, those that are in dire need of food assistance.
To address this, the U.S. has been working very closely with the U.N. You saw that the U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, along with Martin Griffiths, the head of the United Nations humanitarian and emergency relief coordination, came out and met with the Taliban. So those types of efforts continue to be underway to make sure that assistance continues to be provided to the Afghan population and that the devastating policies do not further harm the Afghan population.
In addition, the U.S. and the international community have stressed that assistance will be provided where women are able to work. In addition, last June, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and I launched the Afghan Women's Economic Resilience Alliance, which is a public-private partnership specifically dedicated to supporting Afghan women and girls on everything from mentoring and capacity-building to women's organizations and entrepreneurs. It also assists those seeking virtual education and other means of getting education to girls, even as we continue to put pressure on the Taliban.
We know that there's not a day to waste in terms of Afghan women and girls being stripped of education. So we are trying to find entry points and identify ways to support women and girls both ourselves and by mobilizing the international community.
VOA: The Afghan Taliban seem to be on good terms with regional Muslim countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan. What role have those countries played in pushing the Taliban to change their policies toward women?
Amiri: I've spoken to many leaders in the region as well as Muslim-majority countries. They continue to be extremely concerned about the situation of women and girls. And one of the key issues in which the international community remains united - that is, Muslim-majority nations in the region and nations in the West - is specifically the right of women and girls to education and work. Saudi Arabia issued a very strong statement condemning the Taliban's actions that have taken away women's right to work and girls' right to education. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has put out very strong statements, as have Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and countries in the region.
The one point that the region bears in mind is that they do not want to walk away from the Afghan population. They remember the 1990s in which the world walked away and the Afghan people suffered. And the challenge right now is how do we collectively work to put pressure on the Taliban while not inflicting further harm on the Afghan population?
VOA: You have also said you are seeking a partnership to mobilize support to help Afghan women gain a stronger voice. How successful have your efforts been?
Amiri: I think there's been a great deal of traction. Quite honestly, circumstances faced by Afghan women and girls is the one issue that continues to unite people more than anything else, whether I'm talking to citizens in the private sector, academics, to think tanks or governments. The sense of injustice, the sense that this is something that is setting Afghanistan back and that is going to create greater impoverishment and instability is of huge concern.
And in December, the Indonesian government, in partnership with Qatar, put together a conference in which 40 countries were brought together to identify how greater support could be provided to women and girls. They committed to over five hundred scholarships. And a few weeks ago, I was in Qatar and the Qatari government also was looking for ways to bring direct support to women and girls.
This is an area in which I expect growing enthusiasm. The question is how to do it in a way that's targeted, that meets the needs of the Afghan population, and that gets support directly to Afghan women and girls in a way that is effective. I think that's what we're looking for.