In a rare show of unity, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on Thursday condemning the Taliban’s discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan and called for the country’s leadership to swiftly reverse policies banning education, employment and equal public participation of women and girls.
The resolution, co-sponsored by over 90 countries, received 15 yes votes and was unanimously adopted in Russia’s last days in its monthlong role as the rotating president of the Council.
“The world will not stand by silently as the women of Afghanistan are erased from society,” said Lana Nusseibeh, the U.A.E.’s U.N. ambassador, who led the drafting of the resolution with Japan’s representative. She said the Council was sending an “unequivocal message of condemnation” to the Taliban for their treatment of women and girls.
The resolution, which called for the “full, equal, meaningful and safe participation of women and girls in Afghanistan,” also addressed the Taliban administration’s edict on April 4 prohibiting the United Nations from employing Afghan women. That stance — “unprecedented in the history of the United Nations,” the resolution said — “undermines human rights and humanitarian principles.”
The 15-member Security Council has been sharply divided since Russia invaded Ukraine, unable to find a consensus position on many of the world’s most pressing problems. While the Council was able to finally come together over the Taliban’s treatment of women, the negotiations over the resolution’s final wording were complex and lengthy, according to diplomats involved in the talks.
The resolution, legally binding under international law, does not specify what consequences the Taliban administration in Afghanistan will face if they violate its demands. But generally the Security Council can impose sanctions on countries or governments that do not comply with its resolutions.
“The Taliban has reneged on its promises to the international community and to Afghan women and girls by implementing oppressive measures against them, including barring them from working with the U.N. and N.G.O.s and from attending universities and secondary schools,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., in a written statement after the vote. “These draconian edicts only prevent Afghanistan from achieving stability, economic prosperity and future growth.”
Even with the Council reaching unanimity on the vote, tensions were evident.
After its withdrawal from the country, the United States froze $7 billion in assets from Afghanistan’s Central Bank.
With Afghanistan’s economy in dire condition, the resolution stressed the need for the international community to help on the financial front, “including through efforts to enable the use of assets belonging to Afghanistan’s Central Bank for the benefit of the Afghan people.”
In its address to the Council, China criticized the hasty American exit from Afghanistan and its decision to freeze the assets. China, one of the Council’s permanent members, urged Washington to “make up for the harm it has caused to the Afghan people rather than continue to aggravate their suffering.”
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vasily A. Nebenzya, said the Western members of the Council had blocked a more ambitious resolution that would have addressed the impact of sanctions on the Taliban and how to restore the assets that he said the United States had “stolen” from the country when it froze the Central Bank funds.
The continued discrimination against women and girls has been a major obstacle in the Taliban’s attempt to gain recognition as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal in 2021 and the collapse of the Western-backed government.
Despite the Taliban’s ban on employing Afghan women, the United Nations has said it is not yet planning to pull out of the country because of the grave humanitarian needs of the Afghan people. Nearly two-thirds of Afghanistan’s 40 million population rely on humanitarian aid for food and medicine.
The U.N. mission in Afghanistan said in a statement in April that it cannot comply with the ban because it is against international law and the principles of the U.N. charter. It has ordered its Afghan employees, both women and men, to stay home, and has launched a full review of its operations in Afghanistan that is due on May 5.
The Taliban “seek to force the United Nations into having to make an appalling choice between staying and delivering in support of the Afghan people and standing by the norms and principles we are duty-bound to uphold,” the statement said.
Since seizing power in August 2021, the Taliban have steadily limited the rights of women and girls, reversing the advances made over two decades since a U.S.-led military invasion in 2001 ended the Taliban’s first phase as Afghanistan’s rulers.
Over the past year, the Taliban’s top leadership has banned girls from education after sixth grade, prevented women from working most jobs and restricted their presence in public life.
António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, is convening a meeting next month in Doha, Qatar, to find a way forward in Afghanistan with regards to humanitarian operations, the governance of the Taliban and counterterrorism.
The United Nations has said the Doha meeting is not about recognition for the Taliban, an issue that is up to member states to decide.
Afghanistan’s seat at the United Nations is still held by the former government. The Taliban have appointed Suhail Shaheen, head of the group’s political office in Doha, but so far, he has not been recognized by the U.N.’s credentials committee.
Christina Goldbaum contributed reporting.