(Doha) The UN Secretary-General on Tuesday denounced in Doha the “unprecedented” restrictions imposed on Afghan women, following discussions with representatives of world powers on the approach to be taken with the Taliban authorities.

Antonio Guterres did not indicate whether the ongoing review of UN operations in Afghanistan will lead to a possible withdrawal from the country, after the ban on Afghan women working with UN agencies.

“To achieve our goals, we cannot disengage and many [during the meeting] called for more effective engagement,” he told a news conference, however.

This two-day meeting in the Qatari capital, attended by more than twenty countries and organizations involved in Afghanistan, aimed to agree on the approach to be adopted towards the authorities in Kabul, and the way to encourage them to soften their position on women’s rights.

Since the return of the Taliban to power in August 2021, women have been excluded from most secondary schools, universities and public administrations, and are no longer allowed to work with international organisations.

Taliban authorities were not invited to the meeting.

“The ban on women working with the UN and local and international NGOs is unacceptable, and puts lives at risk” because of their essential role in humanitarian aid, insisted Antonio Guterres, denouncing the ” unprecedented systematic attacks on the rights of women and girls”.

Last week, the 15 members of the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution condemning restrictions on women in Afghanistan.

The Taliban authorities rejected the text which they considered an interference in an “internal social matter”.

They also denounced their exclusion from the discussions in Doha, which notably brought together the special envoys of the United States, China and Russia, as well as the main donors of the European Union and Pakistan, neighbor of Afghanistan. .

“How can a decision made in these meetings be acceptable or implemented when we are not part of the process? It is discriminatory and unjustified,” he added.

Antonio Guterres said he was not ready to meet with a representative of the Taliban, but he did not rule out such a possibility in the future.

No country has established official relations with the authorities in Kabul since 2021, and none of the meeting participants “expressed their readiness to do so”, said one of the envoys present.

The country of 38 million people faces growing shortages amid declining international aid.

“It is difficult to overestimate the gravity of the situation in Afghanistan today,” the UN Secretary General stressed.

Six million people are “not far from a situation close to famine”, he added, recalling that the UN has so far raised only $294 million of the $4.6 billion help requested.

For their part, the Afghan authorities announced on Tuesday that their Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, would travel to Islamabad at the end of the week for talks with Pakistani and Chinese officials.

Pakistan has long been a privileged interlocutor of the Taliban, whose first regime (1996-2001) it recognized. But since the return to power of the Islamists in Afghanistan, relations between the two neighbors have become very strained.