Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the international community has pledged to hold the militant Islamist group accountable for its treatment of women.
But many of the delegations sent by foreign governments and organizations to meet with the Taliban have excluded women. Even talks with the militants over women’s rights have been male-only.
The move has provoked a backlash from Afghan women and international rights activists who accuse foreign diplomats and agencies of hypocrisy.
The Taliban has reimposed many of the repressive laws against women that were a hallmark of its brutal regime in the 1990s, including severely curtailing girls’ education and banning many women from working.
“It is shocking that in 2021, after decades of work on why it necessary for women to be full participants in all peace processes, countries, UN agencies, and aid groups would send men-only delegations to meet with the Taliban,” Heather Barr, the associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, told RFE/RL.
Barr has cataloged the male-only meetings under the hashtag #sausageparty on her Twitter feed in a bid to underscore the importance of women participating in discussions with Afghanistan’s new hard-line rulers.
Germany and the Netherlands on November 18 became the latest countries to hold meetings with Taliban leaders without the presence of women.
No women could also be seen in photographs from the Taliban’s recent meetings with representatives from the European Union, Britain, Turkey, Russia, China, and Pakistan. Women were also absent from the Taliban's talks with the UN Children’s Fund, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders.
Asila Wardak, a former Afghan diplomat who was part of a delegation of prominent Afghan women who visited the UN headquarters in New York last month, said they raised the issue with UN agencies.
“We told them that by not including women in their delegations they were signaling to the Taliban that they were obeying the Taliban's rules on excluding women,” she told RFE/RL. “As long as women are unable to engage directly with the Taliban, they will be left behind.”
Maryam Baryalay, the head of the Organization for Social Research Analysis, a research organization that was formerly based in Kabul, says Western governments and organizations are inadvertently undermining women’s rights in Afghanistan.
“Accommodating the Taliban's idea of woman-less political negotiations is grotesque and wrong,” she told RFE/RL.
Deborah Lyons, the UN’s special representative for Afghanistan, is the most prominent woman to regularly engage with Taliban leaders.
She told the UN Security Council on November 17 that despite Taliban assurances on “the protection of women’s rights within Islamic law, including education, there has been a general curtailment of Afghan women and girls’ fundamental rights and freedoms.”
After it toppled the internationally recognized government in Kabul in mid-August, the Taliban claimed it would show more moderation than during its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001.
But the militants have excluded women from their new interim government. They have also banned secondary-school education for many girls and ordered the vast majority of women not to return to work.
Afghan women have taken to the streets to demand their rights, including in Kabul. But the Taliban has dispersed the small demonstrations by brute force, often beating and detaining protesters.
“These women need support and solidarity more than ever as they continue to struggle against what is quickly becoming a gender apartheid system,” said Sahar Halaimzai, an Afghan activist and fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank.