By Adhya Moona
It’s been a year since the Islamist group retook control over Afghanistan on 15 August 2021, and the female population has been adversely affected—from their fundamental human rights being curtailed to being unequivocally excluded from the public, political, education, and economic/professional spheres of life—forcing them to stay at home. Although, while taking over Afghanistan last year, the Taliban promised that they would allow women to “exercise their rights within Sharia law”,however, these turned out to be hollow promises as the female population were now not able to properly access education, employment, healthcare, and humanitarian assistance, which further worsened their standard of living.
Lives of vulnerable girls and women
Even before the Taliban seized control over Kabul, there was a large section of the “vulnerable” female population who were abandoned by their families or those who fled from their homes because they were subjected to gender-based violence (GBV). These females were able to seek refuge in women’s shelters and institutions that provided them with a safe haven and helped them in various capacities. One such women’s shelter was the ‘Women for Afghan Women (WAW)’ in Kabul, a US-based non-governmental organisation that decided to shut down after the Taliban regained power. Unlike the other women and girls in the country who at least had the emotional support and comfort of their families, thousands of women who had sought refuge in such shelters were stranded post the Taliban takeover. Several women who had been previous clients of WAW were left homeless, and unemployed. Some went missing or even died, whilst others were living in deplorable economic conditions barely making ends meet. According to a report by UN Women around 77 percent of Afghan women, and civil society organisations stopped operating in 2022. Several women support groups, institutions, and civil society groups, that were professionally equipped to provide support and help thousands of girls and women who were victims of violence have been dismantled. The cases of GBV have increased given the restriction on women’s rights and increasing unemployment due to the economic distress has further rendered vulnerable girls and women helpless.
The economic turmoil that has struck Afghanistan, especially due to the imposition of sanctions, suspension of international aid, and no access to foreign exchange reserves,has worsened the quality of life of Afghans. These primarily include the vulnerable section of women, many of whom committed suicide as the last resort. Furthermore, because of the new decree under the Taliban, widows who were the sole breadwinners in their families were now not permitted to work. Even though the Taliban has delegated a ration of wheat and cooking oil, but mostly, this is not enough to feed families. The increasing living expenses and limited funds have made the survival of such vulnerable groups difficult. As per 2022 figures, more than 10 million Afghan women and girls need humanitarian assistance, but they are at a disadvantage when it comes to being able to use the aid, because of administrative issues such as lack of proper documentation and official papers and restricted gender-based movement.
Responsibility of the international community
The world should bring their attention to the vulnerable at-risk groups and liaise with the Taliban to help establish support groups and protection centres that safeguard girls and women who cannot live with their families. Additionally, the United Nations and other international organisations and countries that can diplomatically engage with the Taliban should urge the Islamic group to reinstate and uphold the rights of girls and women. Furthermore, countries providing aid and assistance to Afghanistan should be allowed to set up protection services, infrastructure, and social programmes that can give much-needed social, mental, and psychological help and aid to girls and women subjected to GBV, help them recover from the trauma and train them to be independent women. Amnesty International has not only urged the international community and the United Nations to look into this but has also urged the Taliban to revise their draconian policies aimed at the female population and restore their rights including freedom of movement, education, and employment.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and other non-governmental organisations that are providing relief and assistance to the Afghan population should investigate and document the extent to which the human rights of girls, women, and marginalised communities are violated, and strategise how the UN, powerful international institutions, and the international community can mediate with the Taliban to restore the rights of these communities and solve the humanitarian crisis. It should be called to the Taliban’s attention that participation/involvement of both men and women in public life and different sectors such as economic, social, and political will help stabilise the situation in Afghanistan.