BRAZIL: ‘The Law Should Protect Women and Girls, Not Criminalise Them’

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Inequality, Latin America & the Caribbean, TerraViva United Nations

Jul 18 2024 (IPS) –  
CIVICUS discusses abortion rights in Brazil with Guacira Oliveira, director of the Feminist Centre for Studies and Advice (CFEMEA). CFEMEA is an anti-racist feminist organisation that defends women’s rights, collective care and self-care and monitors developments in Brazil’s National Congress.

In June, thousands of women took to the streets of São Paulo and other cities to protest against a bill that would classify abortion after 22 weeks as homicide, punishable by six to 20 years in prison. Protests began when the lower house of Congress fast-tracked the bill, limiting debate. Abortion is currently legal in Brazil only in cases of rape, foetal malformation or danger to the life of a pregnant person. The proposed bill, promoted by evangelical representatives, would criminalise people who have abortions more severely than rapists. Public reaction has slowed down the bill’s progress and its future is now uncertain.

How would this new anti-abortion law, if passed, affect women?

Currently, abortion is legal in Brazil only in cases of rape, danger to a pregnant person’s life and severe foetal malformation. However, current legislation doesn’t set a maximum gestational age for access to legal abortion. The proposed bill would equate abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy with homicide, punishing the person seeking the abortion and the health professionals who perform it.

This would particularly affect girls, as over 60 per cent of rape victims are children under the age of 13. In more than 64 per cent of these cases, the rapist is someone close to the girl’s family, making it difficult to identify the rape and the resulting pregnancy.

Another perverse aspect of the problem is racial inequality. Forty per cent of rape victims are Black children and adolescents, and of those under 13, more than 56 per cent are Black girls. Of 20,000 girls under the age of 14 who give birth each year, 74 per cent are Black. In addition, Black women are 46 per cent more likely to have an abortion than white women. The passage of this bill would make Black women and girls even more vulnerable than they already are. The law should protect these women and girls, not criminalise them.

How has civil society mobilised against the bill?

CFEMEA has been monitoring threats to legal abortion for decades and is part of the National Front Against the Criminalisation of Women and for the Legalisation of Abortion. Threats increased with the rise of the far right to the presidency in 2018, and feminist movements mobilised over cases of girls who were victims of sexual violence and faced institutional barriers to accessing legal abortion.

In 2023, in response to regressive legislation, they launched the ‘A child is not a mother‘ platform, recently reactivated as the new anti-abortion bill was submitted as a matter of urgency. More than 345,000 people signed up to the campaign and sent messages to parliamentarians. They also applied pressure on social media through posts and hashtags such as #criançanémãe (#ChildNotMother), #PLdagravidezinfantil (#CongressForChildPregnancy) and #PLdoestupro (#CongressForRape).

We also campaigned through face-to-face actions and other collectively defined strategies, led mainly by state-level alliances against the criminalisation of women and for the legalisation of abortion. In May, we laid a symbolic wreath in front of the Federal Council of Medicine, which in April had published a resolution banning foetal asystole, a procedure recommended by the World Health Organization for legal abortions after 22 weeks. By doing so we symbolised our grief for all the women and girls whose lives are cut short due to lack of access to a legal abortion. We reenacted this outside the official residence of the President of the Chamber of Deputies, just before the fast-track request for the anti-abortion bill was approved, on the evening of 12 June.

The following day, the first public protests took place in several Brazilian state capitals. These continued over subsequent days, culminating in a nationwide action on 27 June. The issue is still on the agenda in July and demonstrations are still going strong.

Why is Brazil moving against the regional trend towards legalisation?

Brazil has seen advances by the religious fundamentalist far right since 2016, when President Dilma Rousseff was removed from office through a legal-parliamentary manoeuvre that amounted to a political coup. The violent ethnocentric, LGBTQI+-phobic, neopatriarchal and racist reaction intensified in 2018 with the victory of Jair Bolsonaro in an election marred by disinformation.

Conservatives view the rights to diverse and plural ways of life as a threat to their existence. In this sense, their regressive proposals are a direct response to women’s struggles against patriarchy and all forms of women’s oppression.

Even after its defeat in the 2022 presidential election, the far right has become stronger in the National Congress, where extremists have obtained majorities in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. This has led to the revival of a bill known as the ‘Statute of the Unborn Child’, aimed at granting ‘personhood’ to the foetus in order to criminalise abortion.

Many factors explain the conservative reaction in Brazil and around the world. For fascists in power and in society, violence is justified against groups considered to be ‘enemies of the people’, which can include any dissenting voices – those of women, Black people, Indigenous peoples and LGBTQI+ people. In the case of women, they are trying to re-domesticate us, to send us back home, subservient to the command and judgement of patriarchs. Control over reproduction and our bodies is a crucial part of this strategy.

What are the forces for and against sexual and reproductive rights in Brazil?

The main force against sexual and reproductive rights is religious fundamentalism, which positions itself as a harbinger of control over women’s bodies and gender dissidents and is strongly represented in the National Congress. The defence of these rights lies in the progressive camp, represented by the political left and the feminist, women’s and LGBTQI+ movements.

But it’s worth noting that even with a Congress besieged by anti-rights groups, most people have a less punitive and more empathetic understanding of feminist struggles and women’s rights. A survey we carried out in 2023, in collaboration with the Observatory of Sex and Politics and the Centre for Studies and Public Opinion of the State University of Campinas, showed that 59 per cent were against the criminalisation and possible imprisonment of women who have abortions.

What are the main demands of the Brazilian feminist movement?

The feminist movement is plural and diverse, but what it has in common is the fight to end all forms of violence against women. CFEMEA seeks to transform the world through anti-racist feminism and by taking a stand against all gender inequalities and oppression. This is our position when we enter dialogue with society and make demands of governments. We demand public policies that reduce inequalities between men, women and people with other gender identities, considered in their intersectional dimensions of age, creed, ethnicity, nationality, physical abilities and race, among others.

A fundamental issue is the sexual and racial division of labour, a powerful structure that maintains and exacerbates the inequalities experienced by women. After all, the care work they do, despite being rendered invisible and devalued by patriarchal capitalism, is an indispensable condition for human life and the construction of collective good living. The manifesto of the Anti-Racist Feminist Forum for a National Care Policy, signed by dozens of movements and organisations, affirms the need for social reproduction activities to be recognised and shared by the state. This means that care work, which is currently unpaid and done at the family and community levels almost exclusively by women, must be effectively taken over by the state, because care is a human need.

We demand that governments allocate public investment to combat gender inequalities in areas as diverse as care, culture, education, the environment, health, justice, labour, leisure and wellbeing. It is the state, not the market, that can and must combat such inequalities.

Civic space in Brazil is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Get in touch with CFEMEA via its website or its Facebook or Instagram page, and follow @cfemea on Twitter.


Silenced: Women’s Many Layered Struggles for Climate Justice in Nepal

Active Citizens, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Climate Change, Climate Change Justice, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women in Politics

Women & Climate Change

Silenced and sidelined, women politicians in Nepal fight for their voices to be heard, especially as they represent a population most impacted by climate change.

Women farmers in Helambu, Sindhupalchwok. Women, who are the primary growers, have to deal with changing patterns of snowfall and rain, which is affecting their agricultural activities. However, they feel like no one is listening to their concerns. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

Women farmers in Helambu, Sindhupalchwok. Women, who are the primary growers, have to deal with changing patterns of snowfall and rain, which is affecting their agricultural activities. However, they feel like no one is listening to their concerns. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

KATHMANDU, Jul 18 2024 (IPS) – A group aligned with the mayor of Chhayanath Rara Municipality in the Mugu district of Nepal’s Karnali Province physically attacked Aishwarya Malla for simply asking for a budgetary review of the local government.

“As a deputy mayor, I have the right to know where the budget is allocated, but the mayor’s team attacked me,” Malla said. “They did it only because I’m a woman, but they forget I’m also an elected representative with a responsibility to serve people, especially women and marginalized sections of our society.”

Malla has had an upward battle trying to get her voice heard.

Earlier in May, she requested just a few minutes to lay out her area’s issues related to climate change. She was in the nation’s capital, Kathmandu, where the International Dialogue on Climate Change was happening.

“If you want to know the ground reality, you have to give time to speak,” she said in her loud, passionate voice, but she didn’t get the chance. “We represent the women and lower sections of society, and nobody listens or wants to give us space.”

Aishwarya Malla (left), Deputy Mayor of Chhayanath Rara Municipality, and Shanti Malla Bhandari (right), Vice President of Guthichaur Rural Municipality. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

Aishwarya Malla (left), Deputy Mayor of Chhayanath Rara Municipality, and Shanti Malla Bhandari (right), Vice President of Guthichaur Rural Municipality. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

In Nepal, local governments have the responsibility to be the first and most accessible authority to serve people, and elected representatives run their constituencies.

In leadership positions (mayor and their deputies or presidents and their vice presidents), women’s representation as candidates is mandatory for political parties. However, only 25 local governments have women serving as either mayors or presidents. Out of 753 local governments, 557 have women as deputy mayors or vice presidents.

Largely, women leaders are forced to remain second in line of power. But as Malla says, women leaders are the ones whom people in need reach out to, but they struggle to find their space within the male-dominant local political sphere.

“This is affecting our efforts to find solutions and adaptive measures to the climate change impact in our community and the same is true of other issues too,” Malla said, expressing her frustrations.

Local Struggle on National Platform

During the International Expert Dialogue on Mountains, People, and Climate, organized by the government of Nepal on May 22–23, experts discussed the importance of locally led adaptation to tackle the impacts of climate change in the community. However, there was no representation from the local community.

Apsara Lamsal Lamichhane, vice president of Helambu Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchowk district, stood up and expressed her frustrations when the floor was opened for questions.

“We are the ones who are suffering from the dire impacts of climate change, and we are trying to find a way to adapt,” Lamichhane angrily said as her microphone was about to be cut off. “But the central government doesn’t even listen to us, and we don’t get a chance to present our ground reality on platforms like this.”

Apsara Lamsal Lamichhane, Vice President of Helambu Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchowk, during the International Expert Dialogue on Mountains, People, and Climate. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

Apsara Lamsal Lamichhane, Vice President of Helambu Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchowk, during the International Expert Dialogue on Mountains, People, and Climate. Credit: Tanka Dhakal/IPS

She comes from one of the most vulnerable areas, where locals are facing the direct impacts of disasters exacerbated by climate change.

Lamichhane, Malla and other women in deputy mayor or vice president posts share the same complaint: that the provincial and central governments don’t listen to their concerns, including the losses caused by climate change.

“At the local level, the Mayor or President tries to silence us. In national discussions like this, we are invited but not allowed to speak. It’s our reality,” says Shanti Kumari Malla Bhandari, vice president of Guthicahur Rural Municipality in Jumla.

The Same Story on the International Stage

Just as there are internal obstacles to getting even a few minutes to present the issues local communities on the frontlines are dealing with, experts and leaders at the national level complain that in international climate forums, their voices are suppressed, and they don’t get enough space to present the reality of the climate plight.

Former Foreign Minister Dr. Bimala Rai Paudyal acknowledges that there is much to do to foster smooth discussion internally and to create a listening environment.

“We are working in isolation; there is an inter-ministerial communication gap, and yes, local representatives have to struggle much to make their voices heard,” Paudyal, who advocates for women’s representation in climate change discussions, says.

“Women are not only frontline victims of the climate crisis but also the first responders. We need to give them space, and then we can make our case in international forums. But there is a long way to go.”

To have better negotiation power in global forums, internal discussions need to prioritize local voices, she says. If we listen to each other here, then we can raise our collective voice with much conviction in international forums like the Conference of the Parties (COP) and climate finance committees.

According to Raju Pandit Chhetri, who works on climate finance negotiation, for countries like Nepal that are dependent on donor countries and agencies, negotiating on the global stage is not easy.

“There is already a giver-receiver relationship, and our psyche may be hesitant to negotiate strongly on climate finance issues. I think that kind of mentality may also exist at the national level too,” climate finance expert Chhetri said. “We have to break that wall of hesitation both internally and on the global stage.”

Note: This feature is published with the support of Open Society Foundations.

IPS UN Bureau Report


HLPF 2024: Protecting Civic Space Critical for SDGs Success

Armed Conflicts, Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequality, Migration & Refugees, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


NEW YORK, Jul 12 2024 (IPS) – Each year the international community comes together at the UN’s headquarters in New York to take stock of progress on sustainable development. This year’s High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is being held between 8 and 18 July. Representatives from 36 countries, as per the UN HLPF website, will showcase their achievements on commitments outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, presenting their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs).

This year’s HLPF convenes amid sobering times, underscored by findings from the recent UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2024 report. The report highlights growing inequalities, an escalating climate crisis, accelerating biodiversity loss and disappointing progress towards gender equality. These challenges are compounded by conflicts in Gaza, Sudan, Ukraine and beyond, resulting in close to 120 million people being forcibly displaced worldwide. Alarmingly, only 17 per cent of SDG targets are on track, with around half making minimal or moderate progress, and progress on over a third having stalled or regressed.

Among the SDGs being reviewed this year is SDG 16, which includes commitments on responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision making, access to information and fundamental freedoms. These hard-won commitments recognise the importance of transparency, accountability and participation in achieving the SDGs. They were agreed only after persistent advocacy by civil society activists. For civil society, it’s crucial that these commitments are realised if the transformative promise of the SDGs is to be achieved, in particular because they enable civil society to work with governments to help deliver the goals.

One major reason for uneven progress on the SDGs is the restriction of civic space in many countries around the world. According to the CIVICUS Monitor – a participatory research collaboration – globally only two per cent of people live in open civic space conditions, where civil society is free to exist and act. Of the 36 countries slated to present VNRs this year, only three – Austria, Palau, and Samoa – have open civic space.

Civic space encompasses the right of people to organise, mobilise and speak out to shape the political, social, and economic structures that impact their lives. Where civic space isn’t open, communities have significantly restricted and limited agency to pursue progress – the kind the SDGs envisage. People who expose corruption, advocate for accountability and stand up for the rights of excluded groups are attacked.

In many countries around the world, civil society organisations and activists are being threatened. One-way states are doing this is by misusing anti-terror laws, cybersecurity laws and health emergency laws against them. States such as Cambodia, Egypt, India, Israel, Russia and Venezuela, among others, are subjecting civil society organisations to a complex maze of regressive laws and practices to deny them raising funds from domestic and international sources. This undermines civil society’s ability to push for innovative policies, deliver services to the people who need them most and act as a watchdog over the use of public resources.

Meaningful civil society participation at all levels is crucial for realising the SDGs. However, even within UN platforms like the HLPF, there remains no official way of integrating civil society voices into VNR processes, leading civil society organisations to produce parallel ‘shadow reports’ on the forum’s margins. This current format undermines the potential for meaningful engagement from civil society, leads to duplication of efforts, mismatches data and hinders accountability of states.

If the SDGs are to be achieved, it’s paramount to create a conducive environment where civil society can thrive and participate meaningfully in decision-making and accountability processes, without fear of reprisals. That’s why many civil society organisations have banded together under the Unmute Civil Society initiative to advocate for practical solutions to overcome the challenge of international-level participation. The UN must demonstrate leadership by making more space for civil society at the HLPF.

Jesselina Rana is CIVICUS UN Advisor at UN Hub in New York City.


AFGHANISTAN: ‘The Doha Meeting Has Raised Concerns the UN Is Indirectly Legitimising the Taliban’

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Education, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Labour, Religion, TerraViva United Nations

Jul 10 2024 (IPS) –  
CIVICUS discusses the exclusion of women from international talks on Afghanistan currently being held in Qatar with Sima Samar, former chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). The AIHRC is the Afghan national institution devoted to the promotion, protection and monitoring of human rights. Its status is now a matter of contention: on returning to power, the Taliban decreed its dissolution, but the AIHRC refuses to abide by the decision due to the illegitimate nature of the Taliban regime.

Sima Samar

The meeting between the Taliban, envoys from up to 25 countries and other stakeholders being hosted by the United Nations (UN) in Doha, Qatar, has sparked an international outcry because Afghan women haven’t been invited. This is the third such meeting but the first to include the Taliban, who aren’t internationally recognised as Afghanistan’s rulers. Rights activists have criticised the UN’s approach, saying it gives legitimacy to the Taliban and betrays its commitment to women’s rights. They are calling for gender apartheid to be recognised as an international crime and for sanctions to be imposed on those responsible.

What’s the purpose and relevance of the third Doha meeting on Afghanistan?

The third Doha meeting was convened following a UN Security Council resolution that mandated an independent assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, with the aim of facilitating Afghanistan’s reintegration into the international community and the UN. The appointed independent expert, a former Turkish diplomat, conducted a comprehensive assessment. While it acknowledged the Taliban’s human rights violations, particularly against women, it did not sufficiently address issues such as the persecution of minorities and the erosion of democratic processes.

The UN sees these meetings as part of a plan for a peaceful Afghanistan that respects human rights, particularly for women and girls, and is integrated into the global community. But the decision to exclude women from these critical discussions is deeply contradictory. By accepting the Taliban’s conditions for participation in the talks, the UN is undermining its commitment to promoting inclusivity and gender equality.

Why are rights groups criticising the meeting and what are their demands?

Rights groups have been highly critical of the UN’s approach to the meeting for a number of reasons. First, they have condemned the exclusion of women from the main discussions. This exclusion directly contradicted the UN’s commitment to gender mainstreaming and its resolutions advocating women’s participation in peace processes. Second, there was a significant lack of transparency about the agenda and proceedings of the meetings, particularly the separate women’s session that followed the main discussions. This opacity fuelled concerns about the effectiveness and sincerity of the engagement.

Critics say the meeting focused mainly on economic issues, ignoring important discussions on human rights and women’s rights. This has raised concerns the UN is indirectly legitimising the Taliban’s harsh policies. Rights groups want future meetings to be inclusive and transparent and ensure women’s voices are heard. They want the UN to stick to its rules and not agree to demands that violate human rights.

What’s the situation of Afghan women under the Taliban?

Since the Taliban came back to power, the situation for women in Afghanistan has deteriorated dramatically. Women have been almost completely removed from public life, allowed to work only in very limited fields such as health and primary education, and then only under strict conditions.

Afghanistan is the only country in the world that prohibits girls beyond 11 to 12 years old from receiving education. Even below that level, there are severe restrictions, including the imposition of the hijab on young girls and a curriculum increasingly focused on religious instruction, which threatens to radicalise the next generation.

Women working in any capacity face severe economic discrimination. Their salaries are capped at unsustainable levels, making it impossible for them to live independently. When female health workers went on strike over these unfair conditions, the Ministry of Public Health refused to engage in dialogue.

The Taliban’s systematic discrimination places women in an inferior position in all aspects of life, from education to employment, perpetuating a cycle of oppression and marginalisation. There is an obvious gap between the goals of the Doha meeting, which aim to achieve a peaceful Afghanistan with human rights for women and girls, and the harsh realities faced by Afghan women under Taliban rule.

What should the international community do to support Afghan women?

To support women’s rights in Afghanistan, the international community must take a firm stand against the Taliban’s policies.

First, the Taliban should not be recognised as a legitimate government until they comply with international human rights standards, including those relating to women’s rights. Second, existing sanctions against the Taliban should be strengthened to pressure them to comply with human rights norms. Third, the international community should hold the Taliban accountable for their crimes, including rights violations against women, through legal mechanisms and continuous advocacy.

The plight of Afghan women is not just a national issue, but a global one that affects the stability and peace of the entire region. Ignoring women’s suffering will only perpetuate conflict and undermine efforts to achieve sustainable peace and development. The international community has a moral obligation to ensure the protection of Afghan women’s rights and uphold the principles of justice and equality in any engagement with the Taliban.

What should be done to ensure women are included in future talks on Afghanistan?

To ensure the inclusion of women in future international talks, it is essential that their participation is mandated at every stage of the dialogue process. Women must be at the table for all discussions, as their exclusion fundamentally undermines the legitimacy and effectiveness of the talks.

The international community should strongly reject any conditions set by the Taliban that violate human rights principles, particularly those that exclude women. Transparency is also crucial. Agendas and outcomes of meetings should be openly shared to ensure inclusiveness and accountability.

Civic space in Afghanistan is rated ‘closed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Get in touch with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission through its website or Facebook page, and follow @AfghanistanIHRC and @DrSimasamar on Twitter.


As Heat Soars in India, so Does Domestic Violence

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations


Members of a “Jugnu” club get trained by UN Women to support women who experience gender-based violence. Credit: UN Women

NEW DELHI, India, Jul 4 2024 (IPS) – As the temperature soars to new heights in India, so does domestic violence. It’s a well-established correlation that is largely left out of the climate change discussion, but the gap is glaring and needs to be bridged.

For the third summer in a row, temperatures in India are breaking historical records. The recent record high of 52.9° C (127.22° F), has resulted in loss of livelihood, water rationing, health impacts, and even death. The heat affects some more than others. As people are advised to shelter at home, those in lower economic strata contend with cramped living situations, lack of air conditioning, and power cuts.

Women bear the worst impacts. New Delhi’s Heat Action Plan (HAP) registers their greater vulnerability – noting, for example, that they’re more susceptible to falling sick from the heat compared to men, the heightened risks for pregnant people, and greater expectations of women to be caretakers. But it fails to note the increased threat of violence.¬¬¬¬¬

It is well-documented that temperature extremes lead to an increase in domestic violence cases, with low-income women bearing the brunt. In South Asia, for every degree that the temperature rises, domestic violence increases about 6%.

As India grapples with its large carbon footprint, rising temperatures, and growing population, intimate partner violence can be expected to increase drastically. P¬¬ar¬¬¬ticularly if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t regulated effectively, India could see a spike in domestic violence of more than 20% by the end of the century.

Extreme temperatures are associated with frustration, aggression, and disruptions in people’s daily routines. Researchers theorize this is the reason why heat has a such a strong influence on rates of intimate partner violence.

For low-income daily wage laborers in India, heat may result in loss of livelihood and income. Economic stress and resultant anxiety can significantly increase domestic violence risk.

In addition, women are expected to be caretakers for the family, which gives them little chance of escape from abusers and increases their vulnerability under extreme conditions. This phenomenon was prevalent during Covid-19 pandemic, when the “shadow pandemic” of domestic violence affected women across India.

The pandemic also revealed strong patterns of economic abuse of women due to unequal power dynamics within the family.

Despite research demonstrating this, the spike in domestic violence during heat waves remains hush-hush. New Delhi’s Heat Action Plan (HAP) does not mention gender-based violence even once across its 66 pages.

While it acknowledges women as a vulnerable group and deals with increased risk during pregnancy, other risks to women remain shrouded in the vagueness of “social norms” and “gender discrimination.” Failing to address the threat of intimate partner violence explicitly leaves out a key piece of the puzzle.

The omission has manifold impacts. It lets policymakers shy away from confronting the issue, creating a gap in policy at the highest level. It sets up government workers tasked with implementing the plans such as New Delhi’s HAP on the ground for failure.

With no guidance on how to deal with the predictable increase in domestic violence during extreme heat, government can offer little support for women who need it. Mahila Panchayats (“women’s councils”) and grassroots non-profits often help rural and low-income women find support and community, but extreme weather can cut them off from these resources.

Forced to stay indoors and unable to access help, women have little recourse or respite. In theory, India’s laws protect them. But in practice, implementation is spotty, and they remain vulnerable.

India’s climate policy must not leave women out in the cold. New Delhi’s Heat Action Plan and other policy initiatives must protect women and offer them accessible support. First responders and government workers must be given the tools they need to help support those at risk for domestic violence, not only during heat waves but year-round.

Finally, India’s problem with domestic violence might be exacerbated during the summers but is not unique to them. India needs a suite of policies and concrete actions to contend with rising intimate partner violence, starting at the grassroots level and prioritizing education, employment, economic stability, and family planning for all.

Heat waves and the stressors they bring might be unforeseeable in a sense, but rising temperatures and rising domestic violence are completely predictable effects of climate change. There’s no excuse for failing to redress them.

By leaving women vulnerable year after year, we are doing a disservice, both to women who need help and to the institutions that they place their trust in.

Umang Dhingra is a Duke University undergraduate and a Stanback Fellow at the Population Institute, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that supports reproductive health and rights.

IPS UN Bureau


Special Report: Exposing Afghanistan’s Pervasive, Methodical System of Gender Oppression

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Education, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Middle East & North Africa, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here

Richard Bennett during his oral statement at the Human Rights Council on June 18, 2024. Credit: Anne-Marie Colombet/Human Rights Council

Richard Bennett during his oral statement at the Human Rights Council on June 18, 2024. Credit: Anne-Marie Colombet/Human Rights Council

NAIROBI , Jul 1 2024 (IPS) – The UN Special Rapporteur’s annual report on human rights in Afghanistan lays bare the alarming phenomenon of an institutionalized system of discrimination, segregation, disrespect for human dignity and exclusion of women and girls.

In the new report, Richard Bennett, the UN’s Special Rapporteur, provides an intersectional analysis of the establishment and enforcement of this institutionalized system of unparalleled gender oppression. It paints a picture of a worsening situation for women and girls.

“The situation is that the de facto authorities, who control the country but are not yet recognized as a government, are not just failing to implement their obligations to human rights under the human rights treaties that they’ve signed. They are deliberately implementing policies and practices that flout those policies to create a society where women are permanently inferior to men,” says Bennett in an exclusive interview with IPS.

Education Cannot Wait’s #AfghanGirlsVoices global campaign highlights real-life testimonies of hope, courage and resilience by Afghan girls denied their right to education. Credit: ECW

Education Cannot Wait’s #AfghanGirlsVoices global campaign highlights real-life testimonies of hope, courage and resilience by Afghan girls denied their right to education. Credit: ECW

“Of course, there is sexism in every country, some worse than others, but this is very different from any other country.”

Bennett is referring to the distressing pattern of large-scale systematic violations and subjugation of women’s and girls’ fundamental rights that is unfolding, abetted by the Taliban’s discriminatory and misogynist policies and harsh enforcement methods such as gender apartheid and persecution.

“Only in Afghanistan has a government shut schools for girls above the age of 13, above the sixth grade, and does not allow women to go to universities. And this, combined with segregation, means that women are really suffering. For example, women can only get treatment from doctors who are women and the same applies to teaching. It is a very segregated society as a whole. Just today, a businesswoman told me that she could only do business with female customers. This is affecting not just the current situation and the current generation, but the future as well.”

The Special Rapporteur finds that the Taliban’s institutionalized system of discrimination is most visible through its relentless issuance and enforcement of edicts, decrees, declarations and orders that in and of themselves constitute severe deprivations of human rights and violations of international law.

Between June 2023 and March 2024, they issued an estimated 52 edicts. These include banning foreign non-governmental organizations from providing educational programmes, including community-based education. The Taliban banned women from participating in radio and television shows alongside male presenters.

In July 2023, female beauty salons were forced to close. In August 2023, women were prohibited from entering Band-e Amir National Park. In October 2023, women were excluded from holding directorships within non-governmental organizations. In February 2024, women on television were required to wear a black hijab, with their faces covered, leaving only their eyes visible.

“We are concerned about intergenerational issues, but also intersectional issues. There is discrimination against women and girls who are of an ethnic or religious or linguistic marginalized groups,  or persons with disabilities, or a woman heading a household. Travel requires accompaniment by a close male relative and some women do not have such a person available. All of this is extremely restrictive and will also affect future generations as it will lead to a lack of education and professions,” Bennett says.

The report finds that “women and girls are being maneuvered into increasingly narrow roles where the deep-rooted patriarchy, bolstered and legitimized by Taliban ideology, deems them to belong: as bearers and rearers of children, and as objects available for exploitation, including debt bondage, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation and other forms of unremunerated or poorly remunerated labor.”

The UN Special Rapporteur stresses that there was progress in Afghanistan before the return of the Taliban.

“It was not perfect, but for 20 years there was notable progress. As a result, there are very many professional women in Afghanistan, and women who head households as the main income earners—the main breadwinners for their families. The restrictions are having very serious negative effects.”

Richard Bennett, UN Special Rapporteur Afghanistan, advocates for the rights of every girl to education in Afghanistan. Credit: ECW

Richard Bennett, UN Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan, advocates for the rights of every girl to education in Afghanistan. Credit: ECW

Bennett is among the prominent supporters of the global #AfghanGirlsVoices campaign launched by Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises within the United Nations. Now in its second phase, the campaign aims to ensure unrestricted access to education for Afghan girls and young women.

After seizing power in 2021, the Taliban swiftly imposed a ban on secondary education for girls, subsequently expanding this restriction to encompass universities and, more recently, private learning centers. Young women have also been prevented from leaving Afghanistan to pursue tertiary education.

“There has never been universal education in Afghanistan, even in the 20 years preceding the return of the Taliban. However, the education system gradually improved, although not as much in remote or rural areas. Part of this was due to a lack of resources, as well as an ongoing internal conflict. So, it was insecure and difficult to maintain schools. But once the Taliban came back into power after August 2021, an education system built over two decades was quickly unraveling,” he says.

In addition to the school closures, he speaks of concerns about the quality of education from two perspectives. One is the alarm over an ongoing brain drain in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over. Many teachers and university lecturers have left the country.

The other concerns are changes to the curriculum and especially a notable increase in madrasa education. Madrasa education has always been a feature of life in Afghanistan. “But now there seems to be at least anecdotal information that the teaching is much more religious-based than a broad education. Girls can go to madrasas,” he says. 

On recommendations and urgent solutions moving forward, Bennett stresses that “no country should ban schools. We therefore continue to call for the reversal of this policy and the reopening of schools with a good quality education. My recommendations are what I call an all-tools approach, as only one approach or any one tool will not work.”

Overall, he says the report calls for justice and accountability, incorporating human rights and women’s voices in political processes and diplomatic engagement. Emphasizing that bolstering documentation of human rights abuses and violations is critical, as is reinforcing protection and solidarity for Afghan women, girls and human rights defenders.

Bennett has a direct message to the current rulers in Afghanistan, the Taliban, to reverse their policies and to comply with human rights. The second message is to the international community, urging them not to normalize or recognize Afghanistan’s unacceptable and worsening human rights situation.

Further stressing that the global community should strongly resist normalizing diplomatic relations or accepting the Taliban into the UN unless and until they meet concrete, measurable, verifiable benchmarks on human rights and the rights of women and girls.

IPS UN Bureau Report