Afghanistan's Taliban rejected a fresh call Thursday from the United Nations to remove what it says are "punishing restrictions" on the impoverished country's female population.
The rebuke comes a day after a meeting of the U.N. Security Council was told the restrictions block Afghan women and girls from accessing education and work and participating in public life at large.
Since regaining control of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban has banned girls from universities and teenage girls from attending schools beyond the sixth grade. They have also ordered most public sector female employees to stay at home. Women have also been barred from visiting parks and gyms.
Responding to the criticism from the U.N., the Taliban-led foreign ministry in Kabul called the remarks an interference in the country's internal affairs.
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan remains committed to international norms and obligations that do not contradict the principles of Islamic law, contravene Afghanistan's cultural norms or undermine our national interests," the statement said, using the official name of the Taliban government.
"We, therefore, urge all actors to respect the peremptory norm of non-interference and cease all attempts at meddling in our internal affairs, including the modalities and composition of our governance and laws."
The Taliban is not recognized by any foreign government or international organization and their curbs on women and girls are seen as a major obstacle in its efforts to be regarded as Afghanistan’s legitimate government.
While briefing the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, Roza Otunbayeva, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, slammed Taliban edicts banning her organization and other agencies from employing local women.
She urged the Taliban to "rescind" the ban to enable the United Nations to continue its full support to millions of Afghan families in need of urgent assistance.
Otunbayeva also rejected Taliban suggestions to replace female national staff with male Afghans. Since the ban went into effect on April 5, the U.N. has instructed its female staff to work from home and for non-essential male staffers to also work remotely.
"We have been given no explanations by the de facto authorities for this ban and no assurances that it will be lifted. We will not put our national female staff in danger and therefore we are asking them not to report to the office," she said.
The U.N. envoy said she had told the Taliban that as long as restrictions on Afghan women "are in place, it is nearly impossible that their government will be recognized by members of the international community."
In a meeting earlier this month, Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada directed government spokespersons to emphasize the enforcement of Islamic law in their statements.
"The United Nations and the United States have held the entire world hostage and nothing moves without their dictation," he told the meeting in the southern city of Kandahar, which is known as the birthplace of the Taliban.
"The Islamic Emirate [the Taliban] effectively controls all parts of Afghanistan, but non-Muslim and even Islamic countries refuse to recognize it," the reclusive Taliban leader, who rarely leaves Kandahar, was quoted as saying.
The Taliban welcomed parts of Otunbayeva's speech on Wednesday, where she acknowledged that the group's ban on opium cultivation in Afghanistan had been "effectively enforced," and decreased the cultivation "significantly."
New satellite images examined by geospatial analytics firm Alcis and longtime Afghanistan expert David Mansfield revealed this month that the scale of the reduction in opium production across the country is unprecedented, with cultivation in southern provinces down by at least 80% compared with last year when the Taliban banned the growing of poppies for opium.
The U.N. envoy also praised the Taliban's efforts to improve the Afghan economy, reduce corruption and generate "sufficient" revenues to finance government operations, including paying civil-service salaries.