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At UN on International Women’s Day, Talk of Women’s Rights, Little Action

Written by on March 8, 2023

At United Nations meetings Wednesday to mark International Women’s Day, there was much talk but no discernible action on advancing and protecting women’s rights.

A meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Afghanistan offered verbal support to Afghan women, who are among the most oppressed in the world under Taliban rule. But no new measures were offered to pressure the Taliban to reverse more than 30 edicts banning women from public life since the group took power in August 2021.

“Outspoken international condemnation is critical, but it’s not enough,” Afghan women’s activist Zubaida Akbar of Freedom Now told council members.

She urged them to take meaningful action, including not granting exemptions from international travel bans to allow Taliban leaders to go abroad for meetings while Afghan women remain trapped in their homes or need a male chaperone to go out.

“If you do not defend women’s rights here, you have no credibility to do so anywhere else,” she warned.

‘Our religion has largely been hijacked’

In another room, Pakistan organized a conference on “Women in Islam: Understanding the Rights and Identity of Women in the Islamic World,” aimed at highlighting the achievements of Muslim women and dispelling some stereotypes.

“This caricature is painted on the perceptions based on ignorance of our history, ignorance of our cultural, historical norms and roles that women have played,” said Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. “And this caricature is a result that the perception of our religion has largely been hijacked after 9/11 by extremists who do not represent our faith.

The conference offered solidarity and calls for doing more but no outcome.

VOA asked Zardari during a short news conference why there was no action.

“I understand the frustration obviously,” he said, “but the point is, that’s our job at this United Nations and at the OIC [Organization of the Islamic Cooperation] to hold meetings and to shine a light on the role of women, and particularly for us within the context of Islam.”

He added that the need for action is not just limited to the Muslim countries but everywhere.

‘Abused, threatened and violated’

In the General Assembly Hall, countries were participating at the Commission on the Status of Women. The CSW, as it is known, has drawn more than 4,000 government ministers, diplomats and civil society members to New York for the annual two-week conference to discuss how to empower women and improve the lives of women around the world.

When the session opened on Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that at the current pace, gender equality is projected to be 300 years away.

“Progress won over decades is vanishing before our eyes,” he said, adding that women’s rights “are being abused, threatened and violated around the world.”

CSW members are working on an outcome document to be adopted at the end of the session. The theme of this year’s meeting is bridging the digital gender gap. That includes improving female access to the internet while protecting women and girls from online harassment and sexual violence.


Margaret Besheer


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