Afghanistan: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP debate on the situation of women’s rights

EEAS Press Team

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Ms President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,  

On the last five weeks, our attention has been largely focused on Russia’s war against Ukraine, the situation in Afghanistan remains critical. The European Union and its Member States have provided a massive upscale of humanitarian assistance to avoid famine. But while saving lives is necessary, it is not sufficient. Systematic violations of human rights are reported across the country and all Afghans are suffering. However, I would like to dedicate my short speech today to the women and girls of Afghanistan. 

Within the past two weeks, we have witnessed the heart-breaking images of girls full of hope turning up for school. They went to school and they were called to go back home, because they were not allowed to be there, they were not allowed to attend school, and they had to turn away at the school gates because the Taliban reversed their promise to the Afghan people of opening secondary schools for all. 

Denying education to millions of girls goes against the commitments that Afghanistan as a state has signed. It is against the commitments the Taliban have made to the Afghan people and to us, to the international community. Several Muslim countries and organisations have also condemned these actions, pointing out that within an Islamic system, women are an integral part of the workforce, in government and in higher education.

The Taliban must reverse these decisions, the decision to deny education to girls. Not for us, not for the sake of the international community, but for the sake of the future of the people of Afghanistan - for themselves, for their people. 

We are delivering on our commitment to the people of Afghanistan, and in particular to Afghan women. 75% of the European Union’s €250 million package for health, education and livelihoods now puts special attention to women and girls, to women’s and girls’ rights. We are supporting, for example, 23,000 small-scale entrepreneurs, many of them are women.  

You know, we have systematically engaged with the Taliban for full inclusion of women in all humanitarian operations. In 2021, we deployed €222 million just for humanitarian interventions with a strong prioritisation of female-headed households. Over 80% of our health and nutrition beneficiaries are women and children, while we also support trainings for young women to become primary and secondary school teachers. But, for what if at the end they are forbidden to put in practice their capacities for the good of their people? 

Afghan women must be given the opportunity to speak out and to represent themselves as equal partners in shaping the new Afghan reality. This is why I facilitated, on the 10th of March, the establishment of the Afghan Women Leaders Forum to provide women a Forum for voicing their concerns on the international stage.  

The only way to support the people of Afghanistan is to continue raising these issues with the Taliban, who are the ones who have the power and the administrative capacity in Afghanistan. We make our voice heard by talking with the Taliban de facto government – like it or not. We take note of their commitments and we assess them by their deeds. Walking away and leaving the field to others is not an option. It is by being present, also in Kabul, and by engaging on the basis of the European Union’s benchmarks, that we can best defend Europe’s interest and the values we share with the Afghan people, and in particular with Afghan women in this dire situation.  

I think this debate can help bring the attention of the world to this forgotten drama, to this forgotten tragedy. The drama and the tragedy of millions of girls whose future is being jeopardised by this cruel decision of not allowing them to be taught, to learn, and to prepare for their future lives.

I hope the voice of the European Parliament will be heard about it. 

Thank you. 

Link to the video:


Closing remarks 

Madame President, Honourable Members, 

Thank you for this debate and thank you for your engagement on Afghanistan and, in particular, for putting the spotlight on the situation of Afghan women and girls. 

The European Union remains committed to support the people of Afghanistan, as was evident in the pledging event last week, where a total of almost €2.2 billion was pledged, of which €560 million from the EU and its Member States. I want to be very clear that the EU does not recognise the Taliban government, and provides its support outside government’s channels. I think it is really important to remember that we do not work with the government. We will continue to facilitate women’s active and meaningful participation in the dialogue on the future of Afghanistan and we will not accept that girls do not have access to quality education.  

International support should follow a human rights approach ensuring equal opportunities to both boys and girls at all levels of education. Our reflections on future support will be based on these ideas. 

The commitment from the European Parliament in this regard is highly appreciated and necessary. 

Thank you for an excellent discussion. 

Link to the video:

Nabila Massrali
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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Xavier Cifre Quatresols
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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