An exiled former member of the Afghan parliament has told an urgent debate at the UN Human Rights Council that women there are in danger of being "erased from public life".

Fawzia Koofi, a former vice-president of the Afghan parliament, described how painful it was "to advocate for our basic rights, the right to be visible, the right to not be erased".

She especially appealed to Muslim countries "not to let the Taliban misrepresent our beautiful religion...what they do is in contradiction to Islam".

Ms Kwoofi also urged countries around the world to do more to highlight the issue.

"Move from beautiful statements and resolutions to practice," she said.

Her call came as the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet told the debate that women and girls in Afghanistan would face "a dark future" unless something changes rapidly.

"Women and girls are experiencing the most significant and rapid roll-back in enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades," she said, urging the Taliban to look to other Muslim countries for inspiration on improving the rights of women, and ending their "systematic oppression".

She urged the Taliban to set a firm date to reopen schools for girls and remove restrictions on women's movement and attire.

Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, criticised forced and child marriage and curbs on women's attire, movement and employment.

"Despite public assurances from the Taliban that they would respect women's and girls' rights, they are reinstituting step by step the discrimination against women and girls, characteristic of their previous term and which is unparalleled globally in its misogyny and oppression," he told the debate.

The Taliban rowed back on an announcement that all schools would open in March, leaving many girls who had turned up at their high schools in tears and without a pathway forward in education.

In a statement during the debate, Ireland's representative at the UN in Geneva, Michael Gaffey, said the world had witnessed an extraordinary erosion of the rights of women and girls.

"The Taliban's decrees discriminating against women grossly contradict international human rights law, and violate the commitments they made to the Afghan people and the world," he said.

"Afghanistan is now the only country in the world to prohibit girls' secondary education."

However,speaking as the debate was held, the Taliban's reclusive supreme leader called today for the world to stop telling them how to run Afghanistan.

Hibatullah Akhundzada insisted Sharia law was the only model for a successful Islamic state and he hailed the Islamists' 2021 takeover of Afghanistan.

He was speaking at a meeting of some 3,000 male only religious clerics from across Afghanistan, which was held to forge national unity.

The three-day 'Jigra' is called to settle contentious issues.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that they would respect the decisions of those at the meeting, but the final say on girls' education was up to the supreme leader.

Following today's debate, the rights council will vote next week on a draft resolution condemning all violations against women and girls in Afghanistan.

Even before the recent devastating earthquake struck eastern Afghanistan, the economy there had plunged into crisis, as Western governments have withdrawn funding and strictly enforced sanctions, saying that the Taliban government needs to change its course on human and women's rights.

Additional reporting AFP/ Reuters