By Sanchita Bhattachary*
Despite talk about the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan, they never really left. For two decades they loomed in the political backstage, but were very much present in every aspect of Afghanistan and the lives of its people. But the Taliban is now re-imposing its position and political might. Marginalised sections of the country — children, religious minorities, women and girls — will face the brunt of it.
Although Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid promised on 17 August that the Taliban would honour women’s rights within Islamic law, violence against women continues. The Taliban shot dead a woman in Takhar province for not wearing a burqa just hours later. And after the Taliban capture of Kabul on 14 August, advertisements of women wearing wedding dresses were quickly painted over. A man can be seen using white paint to cover up the large images outside a beauty salon.
As it captured one district after another in July, the Taliban Cultural Commission decreed ‘all Imams and Mullahs in captured areas should provide the Taliban with a list of girls above 15 and widows under 45 to be married to Taliban fighters’. The Taliban also issued new laws and regulations in the captured districts of Takhar province — ordering women to not leave home alone — and set dowry regulations for girls. These moves humiliate women and girls.
The domestic situation in Afghanistan for women is as grim as it was in the 1990s. Women experience various forms of violence — honour killings, rape, beatings, lashings, imposed prostitution, acid attacks, forced marriage and marriage to resolve tribal and land-related animosity. Violence against women during militant attacks has also become an accepted way of life in the war-ravaged country.
According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, there were 1146 women casualties in 2020 — 390 killed and 756 injured. Worryingly, this marked the highest number since systematic documentation began in 2009. Women were especially harmed from the use of artillery shells, mortars, rockets and improvised explosive devices. Many were also killed and injured in targeted killing incidents.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission calculates cases of severe violence committed against women. It recorded a total of 3477 cases of violence against women in the first 10 months of 2020. This comprised 1241 cases of physical violence against women including cases of mutilation, beating, injuring and forced labour. It also recorded 130 cases of sexual violence against women, 1120 cases of verbal or mental violence against women, and 601 cases of economic violence.
Economic violence includes depriving women of their inheritance, not providing alimony (nafaqa), preventing a role in family expenditures, selling their belongings without their consent, and preventing them from working. Other cases of violence included 385 different cases of ousting from home, early marriage, forced marriage, exchanging women and preventing women and girls from going to school.
The situation in Afghanistan is frightening, and the cases of violence against women seem never-ending. With the Taliban now in control, one can only expect a further decline and degeneration of society, polity and economy vis-a-vis the female population.
During the Taliban’s previous rule from 1996 to 2001, it caused a tremendous amount of havoc to Afghan women and girls. This earlier regime was infamous for terrorising the mind and body of Afghan girls and women with public executions, stonings, lashings, acid attacks and sexual violence. Many were also forced into beggary. As the current scenario seems like a rewind to the past, the future for Afghan women is disturbing.
Global women’s rights and human rights movements must express their solidarity for women and girls in Afghanistan — not only in words but also in deeds.
*About the author: Sanchita Bhattacharya is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi.
Source: This article was published by East Asia Forum