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Taliban continues to violate rights of girls and women

Updated: Mar 24, 2022

The headline chosen by CBS News on March 23, 2022 is entirely wrong. It reads "Taliban leaves shocked students in tears by unexpectedly extending ban on girls in school."


It wasn't unexpected at all. In August of 2021, I wrote that we had a very narrow window in which to help women and girls in Afghanistan; a window rapidly closing. We didn't take it. To my knowledge, I assisted one of the only single women with a purely humanitarian claim leave Afghanistan.


We have failed Afghans, but we have especially failed women and girls, because we knew that they would be most impacted by a Taliban takeover. And we knew that the, albeit flawed, mechanisms we created for prioritizing the admission of people who were employed by the US government would preference men almost exclusively. Because men were the people hired by the United States government.


We have created hierarchies of assistance for Afghans, and between Afghans and other refugees. The US government and most of its allies operating in Afghanistan prioritized and still does prioritize applicants for Special Immigrant Visas over other Afghans seeking admission. It does so badly, in that most SIV applications have not been adjudicated, just like almost all humanitarian parole applications have been denied. Catch-22's abound. The US Embassy burned all documents and passports when it fled Kabul, so US citizens with family members eligible to apply for family based petitions are unable to fly out of Afghanistan [see my earlier Refugee and Asylum Law Primer, where I explain that the real problem is that no one can get on a plane to leave if they do not have a valid passport and visa].


The world's attention may have moved on to Ukraine, but those of us who work on humanitarian crises creating refugee flows have not moved on. We we are the same 700 lawyers in the United States who are working on Ukraine, and Afghanistan and Central American cases involving family separation and kids in cages and even the so-called Muslim ban. And as one of my former students eloquently stated, we are tired. We are trying to clean up messes created by our government, with little or no support, and it seems never ending.


And credit where credit is due -- Poland has done a truly remarkable job allowing more than a million Ukrainians to pass through or find sanctuary while they try to figure out what is next. At the the same time, on its other border, Poland is building a wall to keep out refugees and asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Ghana, and so on. There is a clear hierarchy of refugees in policy, even where the law sees none. Policies were adopted quickly across Europe to allow countries to admit fleeing Ukrainians, which is wonderful and admirable, but it is done even while they scale up their border security and walls to keep out other refugees and asylum seekers.


Back to Afghanistan and the ways we have failed women and girls, in particular. Most girls and women have been unable to attend school in Afghanistan since mid August of 2021. The Taliban first said this was due to a shortage of female teachers, after dictating that girls can only be taught by female teachers. Today, they announced that "all girl's school and high school above grade 6 should be informed to suspend their lessons until further notice and a plan is drawn in accordance with Afghan culture and Islamic law." These are girls of a "marriageable age" according to the Taliban, who should therefore not be educated, but also not be out in public. It may be incremental, but Taliban 2.0 is the same as Taliban, and once again, the world is pretending not to notice. But this time, the US and its allies are responsible -- for encouraging women and girls to dream bigger, to hope for and take on public facing jobs, and then abandoning them to their punishment for having done so.


So, no school for girls who have been without schooling for eight months already. Also, no work or public life for women without mahram (a close male relative like a husband or father). And no public facing jobs for women (except for a few designed to display for international media willing to convey the Taliban's performance of being different). And no women teaching men or boys. And no jobs in government or law enforcement or the judiciary for women. In a country facing a famine, women without mahram will soon be completely unable to feed themselves and any children they may have, like one woman whom I have assisted.


So, when you read a headline saying that Taliban's abusive treatment of girls and women was unexpected, please know that is not true. And when you read a story about Poland doing a wonderful job assisting refugees, please know that this is not the whole story. And when you read a story about the US government assisting Afghans, and Ukrainians for that matter, please know that it is really not doing anything close to what it claims to be doing, nor what it is legally obliged to do under the Refugee Convention. We can do better, and Refugee Projects hopes to help get us there.




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