UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s press conference upon her return from Afghanistan
NEW YORK - The following is the as-delivered transcript of Secretary-General Amina Mohammed's press conference upon her return from Afghaniatan
UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s press conference upon her return from Afghanistan
New York, 25 January 2023
Thank you very much, everyone, for joining us this morning.
And yes, we just got back – myself, Executive Director for UN Women and our ASG (Assistant Secretary-General) from DPPA (Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs) and DPO (Department of Peace Operations) – yesterday evening.
It was a trip that took us about two weeks. It took this long because at the very beginning, when the Taliban announced the bans on education and women in the workplace, our consultations were clear: that we need to have a united front in engaging with trying to get a reversal of these bans; the most important thing, women’s rights and girls’ rights in Afghanistan.
So, we did embark on a number of visits in person that were consultative, to the region and slightly beyond: Türkiye and Indonesia were included, to some of the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia.
And then on our way out of Afghanistan, we did visit Kazakhstan but also the UK and the EU. And I think this is important because this is the whole of society, government approach. The international community needs to have that unified response.
We had three things in mind – first was solidarity and the importance of women’s rights and what had been taken away off the agenda in Afghanistan, with a view to education, secondary and tertiary. And in the workplace and more specifically in the humanitarian space, where this was about women’s lives, this was about people’s lives and therefore double jeopardy – not just women’s rights but the impact of it will be the loss of lives.
The second was to get the engagement, to engage with all parts of our community, but particularly those partners of ours who had different reactions to how we should deal with this and to engage with the people who are the beneficiaries of the support we give and the women’s voices that were really loud before we got there and really said to us, “Look, this is not about you taking your voice. But you need to listen to us, you need to take our voices and you need to amplify them with the Taliban.” And so, engagement writ large.
The third, of course, was to see if there was any opening, any momentum that we could have on the political track. All in all, the visits to Afghanistan themselves, they covered our stay and interactions in Kabul. We then went to Kandahar and met there with the authorities and then to Herat, where we met with those who had been impacted quite severely by these bans.
The meetings in Kabul had started as women had asked me, “Meet with us first and not last, so you really do hear what we want to say going in.” They were very clear – they were women from NGOs, they were women who worked with the international community. They were our staff, the Afghan women in our system, the Mission there. And we also spoke with younger women who were also part of the work we were doing with UN Women.
We spoke again to the international community just before coming in, because some of them are based in Doha; others from the region, together with the EU, based in Kabul. So we met with them in the evening. We had the opportunity to meet with the former President, [Hamid] Karzai, and the Prime Minister, Abdullah Abdullah. We then met with three, four ministers, from the foreign minister to the agricultural minister to the refugees and repatriation and also the deputy prime minister.
We moved on to Kandahar. We met with the Shura, the Ulema that gives the edicts, the laws that pass through. And we met with the governor’s office, the deputy governor and his cabinet.
In Herat, we visited a market situation where in fact women were not allowed to come. Some were there because their mahrams came with them, but mostly we heard from the women that now could no longer have the education or the skills acquisition that they have got to keep them working.
In the case of the engagement with the Taliban, their messages were off one script – all the things they say they have done and that have not got recognition for. We reminded them that even in the case where they talked about the rights, edicts that they had promulgated for protecting women, they were giving rights with the one hand and taking away with the other, and that was not acceptable.
In the case where we spoke to them and they started to talk to us about the humanitarian principles, we reminded them that in humanitarian principles, non-discrimination was a key part of that, and humanitarian and that they were wiping out our women from the workplace. Very specific, the kind of impacts they were having in the medical and in the education field. We have had some – and I would say credit to all those with the push and pull in the international community - have had some exemptions on the medical and on the education part of this. We need to keep, to push the very limits. At the same time, it is a tough call when you are saving lives- saving lives and maintaining the principles and women’s and children’s rights are really a difficult tension and a very fine line to navigate, as we do this, but we tried the best that we could.
We also spoke to, we asked them, as you all know, in the past, the Taliban has said, as they take away rights that in due course, they will come back to this. We said to them, is that in due course ten years, twenty years, fifty years? And we asked them: let’s have a timeline. Let’s be very specific about this. What they would say was soon.
For them, what they want to do is create an environment that protects women. Their definition of protection would be, I would say, ours of oppression. What is it that they want to put into those checks and balances to protect women’s lives - there would be structures as to how people would be educated and go to work, the hijab, the curriculum, these for us are all red flags that we need to look at and to see that we are not completely losing all rights for women and children.
We pushed on a number of other issues as to how these exemptions could be extended all the way. We have not seen the history of the Taliban reversing any edict. What we have seen as exemptions that, hopefully, if we keep pushing them, they will water down the edicts to the point where we will get women and girls back into the workplace.
Martin Griffiths is there currently, building on the work that has been done since last year by the humanitarian community and our partners, and I hope this trip has contributed to reinforcing our demands that these bans are reversed, reinforcing the demands of women’s rights and girl’s rights to be respected. Continuing an engagement beyond this trip because this is not a one-fix wonder, and then creating that space for, can the international community come more to the front and more unified, and the role of the Islamic countries and the neighbourhood taking much more of a stand, as we saw in the OIC statement and the statement of Türkiye. And every time I went to one of these Muslim countries, they did reinforce the fact that Islam did not ban women from education or from the workplace. So, trying to build that momentum to make sure that they take a step forward. They are the neighbours, they are engaging, and that the international community support that in our trying to grab back what we lost in the last few months.
**Questions and Answers
Spokesperson: Thank you very much.
First question to Sherwin on behalf of UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association).
Question: DSG welcome back to UNHQ and on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association thank you for speaking with us. I think that the nub of the situation what you wrote in the 2021, op-ed you co-wrote, that educating girls is not heresy. It is consistent with the faith's first command. The Quran's first word revealed to the Prophet Muhammad was... the first word was “read”. It then identified "Al insan", the gender-neutral Arabic term for human, as the recipient of God's teachings. Reading is the tool and knowledge is the objective for all Muslims regardless of sex. I wonder if you made that argument to your interlocutors in Afghanistan and how did they respond?
DSG: Absolutely, I did. I mean, I used everything that I know that I have in my toolbox to try to defend and to recover women's rights and one of those was to tell them that I, like them, was a Sunni Muslim. They are the Hanafi school of thought, I am the Maliki school of thought, and both are right. However, when it comes to preventing women's education and their rights, we don't see eye to eye on that and the ultimate judge will be God. And a lot of what they've done is harming people. Now I think in one conservative setting, I probably pushed a little far because the reactions I got were to remind me that it was even... they were doing me a favour, it was haram for me to be there talking to them. You'll know that many of these conservative people would not even look at you straight, so it's easy, you know, two can play that game. I don't look at you either. But it's very important that they had the opportunity to speak, and I did, and I gave as much as I think they gave, and we did push.
It was clear they want recognition. It's clear that they appreciate and want the humanitarian and so part of that was listening to me, having to listen to me, not necessarily because they wanted to. They were the forward-leaning, if you can call them forward-leaning, but let's make no mistake. This is a Taliban that are loyal to the Amir and the Emirate. So if we can push and pull with some of those that would go back to Kandahar and get us exemptions, let's do that. But let's not make any mistake that this is not, you know, these are not people with the halo above their heads.
Spokesperson: Thank you, Betul?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Thank you, DSG. Betul Yuruk with Turkish news agency, Anadolu. You went to Türkiye before your travel to Afghanistan and I wonder what kind of help you were seeking from the Turks and how did it help you or did it help you in any way in terms of your engagement with the Taliban regime? Thank you.
DSG: Yeah, many of the consultations, I'd say all of them before I left and then when they were in person and these countries, did. They gave me greater insights into the engagement with these countries and Afghanistan. In the case of Türkiye, they have many of the opposition who reside in Türkiye. They have many of the refugees that have come across the border, particularly women, many journalists. And those conversations were important to me on how far to push and the things that had happened in the past that I needed to call them out on what was different now. And one of those in particular was when they talked about well, you know, in due course, we will address this. Very important voices from the women. Women were very clear to us that, you know, we needed to hear them and take the messages back on their rights and to amplify it. Some thought that we should engage, keep engaging; others thought, no, that you know, we should just stop and when they behaved, but what came across from everyone that we met was that you can no longer conditionally threaten the Taliban. And so, I think that that was the kind of negotiation. We were trying to find the pressure points of what interests they had and how to push that with what we have; and I think that we did, I think we did fairly well in transmitting the voices of women. We had former parliamentarians and ministers who spoke to us before we went back. You have to remember that what happened before the Taliban came back was a huge amount of hope and an expression of that hope with many women who got an education, who were in decision-making roles, who were leaders in Afghanistan and now that's dashed. And when that happens, this, the anxiety and the level of fear amongst women and their future is huge as palpable.
Question: Hello. Thank you very much, madame Deputy Secretary-General. You sound quite pessimistic that this idea of the Taliban looking at this issue again “soon,” in quotes, could be a very long time and the one thing you did mention was pushing for a role of Islamic countries taking up this issue in a more united, concerted way. Can you elaborate on what you'd like to see happen and what you think might happen?
DSG: Well, you know, Edie, in a number of situations before I got there, we had a couple of delegations that went from Islamic countries. It was notable to me that the more moderate ones got a listening to, but perhaps, you know, the statements that came out afterwards, so we heard you, but we have our way. The more ideological of the delegations that went in got full recognition and this was a good meeting. So I think that, you know, we have to, within Islam, talk much more to the moderates about what this means - not just for Afghanistan but the narrative of other Muslim countries where we are having huge pushback, whether it is Iran or it is Yemen. We have to be clear that this is about women in the Muslim world. So I hope that the next two delegations that will go from the neighbouring countries and OIC will be sending a delegation. The first delegation they sent did have a woman on it from Indonesia, and I'm asking for more women to be on that because these are clerics who understand where women's rights are, as well as the men. So hopefully that will go. I hope to see that in the very near future. Each one of these countries engages in one way or another and in those discussions, they need also to condition the space there for the rights of women in Islam.
There is an idea, there's a proposal on the table now that the UN together with the OIC would co-convene with a number of countries an international conference within March on women in the Muslim world, and this would bring in the issues of Afghanistan, but also the region. Remember that the region, I often, you know, say this and when Malala [Yousafzai] was shot, she was shot in Pakistan. So there is a region problem. There is a region that needs to also come to the front with pushing for the rights of women in Islam. We've seen some progress in Saudi Arabia, for instance. I did push on that one when I was looking for a response from the Taliban. I said, well you know, you're the same school of thought with the Saudis and so we'd like to discuss more about that and why there is such a difference, they were very quickly… "We're not on the same page." So it's very important that the Muslim countries come together and establish it. It is difficult. We do not have a Pope in Islam. We have a Quran, and we have different schools of thought, but we do have rights in Islam. I reminded them that you know, if it is women in business, it is the first wife of the Prophet. sallallahu alaihi wasallam. who was a businesswoman that funded Islam. Khadija funded Islam. If it was coming for more knowledge and advice and guidance, it was the younger wife, Aisha, who gives that. So Fatima at education, so you know, you know, Sherwin you talked about "Iqra," the first word in the Quran, and it is... it's a religion of light. It's a living religion and I think that a lot of what we have to deal with is how we travel the Taliban from the 13th century to the 21st and that's a journey, so it is not just, you know, overnight.
Question: Just a quick follow up. Is there discussion of location or dates for this Muslim meeting on women in March?
DSG: Yes, there is. I think it will happen before the middle of March. Its hosting is… they're still being decided, but it will be in the region. This was originally thought could we do it at the sidelines of CSW (Committee on the Status of Women) here in New York, or could we do this in the UK? We actually think we have to take the fight to the region, and we need to have this discussion there and we need to be bold about it and courageous about it because women's rights matter.
Question: In Las Vegas? [Laughter]
DSG: Not Vegas, not this time.
Spokesperson: Pam and then Benno?
Question: Thank you very much for briefing us DSG on a landmark trip. It's Pamela Falk from CBS News.
DSG: Yes, please.
Question: So welcome back. My question is about how is the UN actually functioning today, and women in the different agencies in Afghanistan? As far as I understand, and we've seen there's been an exemption to the NGO ban that allowed for health workers. Is there also an NGO exemption... I mean, an exemption for women working with the UN, is that correct? I don't know if that's true. So how did you go through WFP and WHO and all the other agencies operating in Afghanistan? Thank you.
DSG: Thank you very much. Look, we have a fantastic team in the mission and the UN country teams who right from the very beginning stood and delivered, took great risks to their lives and they're doing this with partners and the international committee and INGOs and many of the donors that are funding this and kudos to them. There were two edicts, one, that took the NGOs out of the humanitarian space and education. In both cases, we had to get exemptions for that on the medical and for the teachers. There was the notion that a third edict may come out that would take out international women from the international organizations, the embassies. I mean this was talked about. I have to tell you we went with, in our back pocket, three responses to that. It hasn't happened so far, touch wood and the tree of knowledge. I don't say that it won't, but clearly the pressure that we're putting on has stopped that roll back as quickly and as I said, Martin is there, we will continue to put that pressure on and engage. But right now, there never was a ban on international women and the international organizations and we hope it doesn't come.
Spokesperson: Benno then Michelle.
Question: Thank you, DSG, for this briefing Benno Schwinghammer with the German press agency. Do you think that it would be helpful for your goals to have a representative of the Taliban here in New York, meaning, would you think it would be helpful for them to send their own ambassador?
DSG: I'm not sure whether it would be helpful or not. I do know we have to be very careful with our principles and recognition, and that's a very thin line and a slippery slope if we don't get it right. So I think what we have to give to Member States is this is the reality and you need to take a decision on how that push and pull will happen to get the Taliban back into the international community respecting the principles. They argued that the representative here was not theirs and that they wanted to see one here. So we have taken that message back and I think that this is a very difficult decision to take because recognition is on the line.
Question: Did you talk about this with the Taliban directly, as well?
DSG: Yes, yes. Their ask was that we do not recognize the person that is here because he does not represent them and that they wanted that recognition and their representative here.
Spokesperson: Thank you. Michelle?
Question: Thanks, DSG. Michelle Nichols from Reuters. Just wanted to ask you a bit further particularly about your conversation with Shura in Kandahar, given they're the ones who are making these decisions. Just to follow on from what you were saying about recognition, did they indicate at all whether these edicts were in response to the UN not giving them credentials again, pushing it down the line? Like, did they indicate or anything else? Was it in response to anything? And when it comes to getting these exemptions, you know, everyone's sort of been focused a lot on the aid workers. But what about the women and girls who can no longer go to school or university? Is there any chance of getting, you know, watering down those edicts so they can return to school?
DSG: Yes. Well, first of all, the Shura themselves are not the ones that will discuss what has already gone by. They will just continue to reinforce what they believe and one of the things they took up and lectured me on was our humanitarian principles. And my response to them was to remind them that humanitarian principles included non-discrimination, and what they were doing was discriminating against every woman and girl and that for us cost lives, it hurt their communities and therefore should be reconsidered. They were they were very, you know, direct in holding the line with all the other issues, where we've done all these things and you haven't responded, and I think that's important that we hold them to that. When they told me they had a law that they promulgated against gender-based violence, I now think that that's an opportunity for me to go back and say okay, can you give me an exemption for the NGOs that work with that? Because if that happens, then many of the stipends, many of the support that goes to the women we saw in Herat and we didn't just talk about those at work in the humanitarian. We talked about those that impacted and sitting around the table, with one woman after the other telling about the impact in her life was painful. We didn't know if… between Sima and I, we didn't know who was going to respond, because we were choking up. These are very real to the woman who tells us, I have no income now, and my medication for depression is a pill every other day because I can't take it every day because I need to save so that I can feed my children; to the one who has a father that has mental health issues and now she has to take responsibility, doesn't know how; to the one that is dealing with children with disabilities, the one who cannot feed her kids the next day. That's one room full of pain that's palpable and a reality that we are really risking lives. This is minus 30 degrees when we went to Herat but in the next room, we have very strong, powerful, organized voices of Afghan women, which is hope. But in that case, they were much harder lined against what we had to do with the Taliban and I asked them I said, you know, we will support you for the movement within Afghanistan, build those coalitions so your voice is stronger. But if we stop, what do I say to your sisters next door who can't see tomorrow? We have to do both. And I think that's the struggle, is how to do both and have and make a difference with what the Taliban are doing. I think we have to keep pressure on that timeline. It is one that we've opened. They were not talking about it, because they did so in 1996. But this time, in some of the rooms I went to, they started with it to say that, you know, soon we would know what they would put in place. I think we have to find ways to engage them to make sure they put in place isn’t bad as taking away the rights to begin with.
Spokesperson: Evelyn and then Ibtisam.
Question: Thank you, Stephane. Evelyn Leopold, good to see you again in this room after many years of listening to you. To follow up on what you said, does the Taliban listen to any other nation that can help the UN pressure them? Or is it just hit and miss? And secondly, to put it crudely, can they be bought? Is there any bank or system that they could be told they would get funds if they treated women differently?
DSG: They have these two mantras. One is called self-sufficiency and the other one's called alternatives and I think that that's really difficult to deal with, because within the region, which is why we must engage with the region, there is engagement. Even while we were there, there were announcements to some countries of some of the investments that they were dealing with. So I think they will go to where they can get an engagement and resources will come. This is a well-functioning mindset that zero tolerance for corruption. Absolute take the max tax so they can take out of anyone to make sure the coffers are full, and they do have trade. I mean, they trade. So I think that we're up against, you know, looking for the leverage we have to bring them to the international community, where the respect for women and girls’ rights, human rights are right up front. And that's why I think the pressure for us to continue engaging not to leave a vacuum that will be filled by something else that will take us back decades. This is really important. It's why I visited the UK and, you know, deep appreciation for what they're doing the international NGOs and the EU in Brussels, what they have done in supporting, for instance, monitoring frameworks, which have enabled us when we've seen money being taken astray by the Taliban to get it back. And I think these are important. We cannot leave and abandon the women of Afghanistan. It's not when it gets hard that we drop off. It's when it gets hard that they see more of us and the way they're in solidarity with them.
Spokesperson: Ibtisam Azem?
Question: Yeah, thank you. My name is Ibtisam Azem, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed Newspaper. I have first one follow-up on Edith's question and your remarks beginning regarding the Muslim majority countries. Could you elaborate on whether you see some countries, the specific countries, countries with more power, that they need to take specific steps that they are not taking. Did you talk about this with these different representatives that you saw? And then you talked about the timeline that the Taliban is talking about without really, no one knows what is exactly that. But my question is, what is your timeline? I mean, what do you want to see? And is there a specific time where you say after that, we cannot... That's just going too far for us to believe that a change really will happen? Thank you.
DSG: Ibtisam, we hoped that we would stop the slide - that the third edict didn't come for me was a really big bonus. I'm not saying it won't come. But I am saying that it didn't come when we thought it would come. We thought it would come at the beginning of January. We thought they would embarrass us, it would come just before we went in, while we were there, just when we went out. Still hasn't done. So that's a big plus. I think it's very difficult for us to sit here up in New York and determine whether it is for us to say a life can be lost or not, that they will fight to lose their lives. I mean, I heard women who were saying, please stand by us. Please be with us, and please try to help us. They didn't say put my life on the line. And this is a very difficult decision, and there are different Afghan voices even amongst the women's community. But all stand against the Taliban and for women and girls’ rights. How we go about it, we have to stay together so that we can push and pull. We can find the threads that we tighten and the ones that are slightly looser because we think we must save lives. But tighten them because there are other aspects that we don't have to deal with them. And this is very difficult.
We say, yes, the region must be involved. You know, before I went in, there was almost silence on the part of the neighbours and those countries as to what was happening with Afghanistan after the Taliban came back. But in the weeks before when these two bans went out, we did hear from the OIC stronger language, we did hear from Saudi Arabia, we did hear from Türkiye. Now we need more from them. We need them to put resources in there that will support the humanitarian endeavour that we have, where maybe it's difficult for some of our partners today to explain to their taxpayers why we're doing this. This is really hard. This is not easy to do. So there may be some real hardliners that say no, we're just not going to deal with this anymore. We have so many problems in the world and there are choices to make, because I have competing demands. And if these people are going take women out of the workspace, we're not going to do it. Then if that happens, we still have to save lives. The UN will continue to stand and deliver, and we get criticized for that. But maybe there are others who will take up the slack because I can't do it. I've got a mandate that doesn't allow me to do it.
So it's not black and white. It's not cut and dry. There's lots of grey areas and weaving that we have to do, but always keeping our women right at the centre of this. Right upfront and centre. If we keep that focus, I can tell you we will go much, much further ahead. If we start to get involved in the why we can't do it, then we won't do it. Now we must do it because these women matter. And they are a reflection of what is happening to women's rights around the world. And if we drop it on Afghanistan, we will drop it on many more rights of women.
Spokesperson: Please go ahead. Yeah.
Question: Thank you for the briefing. Dawn Clancy with PassBlue. My question kind of parallels Edie's as well. On Monday, there was a US State Department briefing where the spokesperson, Ned Price, was asked, what are you doing to hold the Taliban accountable? He didn't answer that part of the question; instead, he said US is the leading humanitarian provider to the people of Afghanistan, providing about 1.1 billion of humanitarian assistance since August of 2021. My first question is: After your visit, do you find that it's proportionate, the effort that's being put towards humanitarian aid or giving humanitarian aid versus the political work that needs to be done? Like you said, we don't leave when it gets rough. Do you find that those… the effort to both is proportionate at this point?
And then my second question is: Listening to you speak and you're talking about the women in Herat and then you were speaking about the woman who… a woman who doesn't have her depression medication. She has to split it up or dealing with a father who has mental illness and not knowing what to do. So I'm wondering if you... You know, if you were sitting there now, and you were talking to these women and you said, yeah, but the United States is providing 1.1 billion in humanitarian assistance, what would their response be to that? What do you think?
DSG: Well, I mean, she's speaking to an instance where that 1.1 billion in humanitarian assistance has been taken away, because there can't be women-to-women services. So not a conversation that makes any sense, right? The sense is that because the Taliban have put in bans, they've taken away 30% of the workforce that in a culture says women-to-women. So those women-to-women services were taken away. The cases we made when they said, well, we can go home, we can go online; you cannot deliver babies online. And this is important for them to know that there are implications, impacts to what they have done. And one of them was these women I spoke to, who because of the services had been cut, that was the implication. And many of them said to us please don't let us be caught in the crossfire. The crossfire between the discussions we have to have with the Taliban and the implications in our countries, and of course, the humanitarian services have to be delivered to save lives.
Question: If I could just follow up to that because another thing that Mr. Price said was that he was asked whether or not that humanitarian aid was being funnelled through the Taliban and he insisted that it wasn't, that it's going right to the people. Then he was talking about the recent decree and how regarding women, Taliban… or Afghan women working for NGOs and how… I think he said something like 83% of NGOs on the ground have either suspended their operations or have cut back because of this decree. But then he went on to say that the money doesn't go through the Taliban, it goes through NGOs. So my thought was well, if 83% of the NGOs have either cut back or have completely left the country, then where is that money going if it's supposed to be going through the NGOs?
DSG: I don't know all the percentages and what context he was speaking in, but we do know that about 30% of the workforce is women. There are men in the workforce as well. I think it's a good leverage to say to the Taliban that look, you wouldn't want angry men without a job because if it's not acceptable for us, it's a red line, we will not replace women with men. And so, I think that in this case, what we needed to do was try to repurpose some of the funds we had to get cash into the hands of women. And within the UN system, that's possible, within our INGOs that's possible and we're looking at that. But, yes, a loss of women's service to service, I'm not sure that it's as high as 80% writ large, it might be in specific cases, but it's a high percentage. I mean thousands of women… in one instance I know three or four our NGOs came together, told me out of the 59,000 employees they had 15,000 who were women. And you know, this… it just, you know, that's it. Women get blanked out; they disappear. And that's our concern. And it does, it is more… 10% of what we are giving support to, they are female-headed households. So what happens to them?
So these are implications that we're working much more on to be definitive about. We were asked by many Afghan women that, you know, they believe there are some resources that are not reaching the women but should be. But it really wasn't from necessarily the international community. There were number of bilateral donors, and we don't have oversight over that. We have oversight over what is coming through the UN and what is coming through our international partners in the humanitarian sector. When it disappears, as I said before there is a really good monitoring mechanism, and we can tell you in two or three places where it was reported and we were able to go back to the authorities both in Kabul and in the province and that was rectified.
Spokesperson: Maggie, and then we'll go to Yvonne online?
Question: Deputy Secretary-General, it's Margaret Besheer, Voice of America. You said you were transmitting the voices of the Afghan women to the Taliban. My question is did the Taliban even hear them? I mean did they care? And what did they give to you as an explanation for why they need to have these edicts? I mean, what is it about the women that they feel threatened by?
DSG: Hear us? Yes, they did. I mean, as I said some of the times we pushed some of these messages pretty hard, the reaction wasn't pleasant. Care? It depends - whose definition of care? These are people who think that they are protecting women. So if you're asking them whether they care or not, and they will tell you, yes, we do. We are protecting our women and what are we protecting in from? They were protecting them from Western values. And what we want is to make sure that they are gaining education. They never denied education for women as a right, nor in the workplace. What they said was the type of education and the type of work. And in many cases, you know, for them, this was about the structures of separation, of hijab, of curriculum; and so, you know, I think that's what we're pushing is to say, well, okay. If you think women should have an education, let's see what this means and how you're going to bring them back. I mean, my definition is that, no, I don't think they care. If they did, we wouldn't have the ban in the first place. You ask them they will tell you, yes, we care because we want to protect our women from values and rights that are not ours. And we disagree with that; we disagree strongly that Islam preaches the rights and values that they are dictating.
Spokesperson: Yvonne Murray, RTE, on screen?
Question: Thank you. Can you hear me? Thank you, madame Deputy Secretary-General. Thank you very much for this briefing. I have two quick questions. Did you lay it on the line with the Taliban? Did you say if they don't reverse these decrees then they won't get the international recognition that they are seeking? And my second question is did they mention China to you? And if so, did they see China as an ally or a friendly country?
DSG: The second question is much easier. [Laughter] No, they didn't mention China, and if the treatment of China in Afghanistan by others is anything to go by, I wonder if they are welcome. But they are clearly there. China is withdrawing, but where their security concerns are not covered. Even when we were Herat, there were security concerns and mostly not because necessarily of us, but where we were going was in the same domain as the Chinese. So I think that's a question for them.
Yes, they recognize. We laid it on the line, recognition, because they talked about it all the time. These are the things that they have done, they don't have corruption, they stopped poppy production, they have had an amnesty, and all of this we said was not sufficient in terms of its implementation; they could say it but implementation for Member States to be able to take a decision on recognition.
So, you know, I went into Afghanistan thinking perhaps the most conservative of them didn't care about recognition; they do. Recognition is one leverage that we have and we should hold on to it.
Spokesperson: Ephrem, Arab News.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Ms. Mohammed, you spoke about traveling. It's a matter of traveling the Taliban from the 13th century to the 21st century and it's quite a journey. And if I may ask you, I think this is not the first time that you undertake a similar journey. Maybe there are many differences, but you are known for playing a big role in your country with Boko Haram, another extremist group that also uses religion for violent ends. And you helped reintegrate some of its members into the Nigerian society. And I wonder if there are any parallels in your mind between these two situations, if there are any lessons that could be taken, in dealing with the Taliban. Thank you.
DSG: Sadly, if I drew one lesson from both is that the first victim is women and girls in both cases. To an extent both are using Islam; one is trying to reengineer it, the Taliban. Boko Haram were using it as an excuse, didn't really understand it anyway. And I don't know in the case of the Taliban, but I understood right at the very beginning of their genesis, they were fighting corruption. In the case of Boko Haram, it was the injustices that were done to a number of them that were murdered by the authorities and there was no response and they then metamorphosed into these monsters. And the first victims are women and girls. It's a soft underbelly of society. And so, I think that, you know, for us with Boko Haram the first thing was for our authorities, our president to say what they are doing is un-Islamic. And even that, I know he went under a lot of pressure not to say it. Because maybe he would be threatened or maybe this would cause more problems. But he said it and once he said it then the direction then turned in the country to try to defend Islam. And Boko Haram got less sympathy because there was some to begin with. And that was difficult for us. So they lost many of their followers in the course of events. But government had to put back in place what it was that communities were struggling to see and were sympathetic to Boko Haram for, which is a lack of governance in the local governments, a lack of respect for women and education for everyone, health for everyone. It's only by doing that that we actually took away the fodder for Boko Haram in terms of young men. And in reintegration, finding that, in fact, the ideology wasn't there, it just was in many cases, there was no alternatives. And so it was easy to recruit them. So I hope that… I think this is a slightly different situation with the Taliban, very sophisticated and have been around a long time and have resources. But I think it's really important right now to maximize whatever leverage we have to bring them back to those principles of being part of an international family but yes, no one objects to a Muslim country and Sharia, but all of this cannot be re-engineered to extremism. And taking views that harm women and girls - this is absolutely unacceptable. And we should hold the line on that.
Spokesperson: We're going to squeeze in two very quick questions. One, Iftikhar Ali Associated Press of Pakistan and…
Question: Thank you, Steph. Thank you, madame Deputy Secretary-General for the briefing. To say that you had a challenging time in Afghanistan would be an understatement. Your opening presentation makes one very pessimistic… But madame Secretary-General, would you identify one area, you could expect some progress in terms of rights of women in Afghanistan? Thank you.
DSG: You know, I'm not being pessimistic about it. I'm just saying this is a hard job. This is going to be tough to get them back into the space we need them and women and girls’ rights protected and upheld. And that's what I want us to do. But I think without a reality check, you go in there not with the right tools and with the notion that this is not going to be a quick fix. So if there's anything that I would say we got from the Taliban, I think it's very important that they are putting a law in there against gender-based violence. That for me is a big plus and I want to leverage it because gender-based violence was increasing, is increasing in Afghanistan. And for anyone that has to be in a position where you are incarcerated in your houses, we were in COVID, but this is now because they're taken out of the workplace and are suffering gender-based violence, and there's a law against this. And I want to hold the Taliban to account for implementing that law.
The same thing with inheritance. This is also something that, you know, everything was taken away. All your rights taken away in inheritance for women. If this is put back according to Islam, what's mine is mine and what's his is mine. And so we get double. And if we can implement that, I think that's a good thing. That a woman is not being traded off for blood money, it's huge. I mean, we were just... What were we? Nothing. If that was the case. So yes, I saw two or three things; I came back, and I would say… I'd only believe them if I see them implemented. And if we are still there, then how can we hold them to account? How can we make sure that the work we do to implement this is our exemptions that are given to us to be fully enabled in Afghanistan and the provinces.?
I think it's very important for us to work more in the provinces, particularly the provinces that are forward leaning, six to seven that are really Taliban, but there are 34 provinces. So over 20 provinces that we could be moving forward. There are education, primary education is allowed, but only about 23% has education. We could do more to capture the next generation. I mean, I want to look for the light in this darkness, and it's pretty dark. But there are some lights you know, specks of light that we can grab and we can try to light out the darkness.
Spokesperson: Stefano and then we have to go.
Question: Stefano Vaccara, La Voce di New York. Thank you for this briefing, madame. I'm here. And the Security Council when the Taliban got… won back to power they actually approved a resolution that if I remember well, one of the things was that the people that wanted to leave, that Taliban had to allow them to leave the country. So my question to you here is when and what has to still happen in Afghanistan, when you will advise and tell the women of Afghanistan that they could, at least when they can, to leave, to leave the country? And in this trip, did anyone of those women that you described they were in a very-very horrible situation. Did any of them ask you to help them to leave the country?
DSG: We didn't have anyone ask us to leave the country. Some of the women we met who are outside, like in Türkiye, wanted to go back. But they wanted a conducive environment to which to go back. The women in Herat that we spoke to that were desperate, many of them were talking about going back because they had already escaped Kandahar in 1996 and they'd gone to Iran, some had gone to Pakistan; and they had come back, not to Kandahar, but to Herat, because they said that was freer and more conducive for them to live. But now they're thinking about going back where they came. They're not asking us to help them leave, because these are your everyday women on the ground, these are not women in the cities. And they will go back across those refugees. We already saw this in some of our NGOs who told us the number going back across the border, to Pakistan. Pakistan, of course, much more concerned now because of the threat of terrorism. And this makes it more difficult for refugees who are not just seen as refugees; they are seen as the potential of terrorism. So it's very difficult. But yes, I think the anxiety of no hope that there isn't a tomorrow is driving many to say we're going to go back across the borders. Not asking us to help them, but they're just telling us.
Spokesperson: DSG thank you very much. Thank you.
DSG: Thank you very much everyone.