The U.N. Women's agency representative in Afghanistan said Monday that the rollback on women's rights in that country is an "alarm bell" to the world that shows how decades of progress can be wiped away in months.
"Anywhere in the world, the act of walking outside your front door is an ordinary part of life," said Alison Davidian, deputy country representative for U.N. Women in Afghanistan. "But for many Afghan women, it is an act that is extraordinary. It is an act of resistance."
Davidian spoke to reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York via a video link from Kabul.
Her remarks come as more than 20 countries and international organizations meet with Taliban officials in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. The Taliban are preparing to mark a year since they seized power after Ashraf Ghani's government collapsed, and he fled the country last August.
Since coming to power, the group has reneged on pledges not to restrict women's rights, increasingly cracking down on how they dress, on their ability to hold jobs outside the home, get an education, move freely or participate in political life.
"Combined, these restrictions limit the ability of women to earn a living, to access health and education, to escape situations of violence and to exercise their rights," Davidian said.
She said the many Afghan women she has met have told her they will not give up, and she urged countries to support civil society and empower women's rights groups in the country.
"Invest in women. Invest in services for women, jobs for women. Invest in women-led businesses, in women leaders and human rights organizations," she said.
Davidian emphasized that the full participation of women in Afghan society is a key to helping the country emerge from its current financial and economic crisis. She noted that some data project the loss of women's employment could deprive the economy of up to $1 billion or 5% of GDP.
She said that while Afghanistan is not the only country in the world where women's rights have been rolled back, the situation is an "alarm bell."
"What is happening in Afghanistan is a clarion call to everyone that the fight for women's rights in Afghanistan is a global fight. It is a battle for women's rights everywhere," she said. "And what we do, or fail to do, for women in Afghanistan reflects who we are and what we stand for as a global community."
Davidian said she is hopeful the situation can improve because of the strong tradition of Afghan women's rights advocates and activists. And with international support, she believes they can make progress in the fight for their rights.