By Abdul Rehman
Taliban, famously known for their brutalities and social restrictions on women (among other things) have once again emerged as a strong threat to Afghan women’s rights in the wake of the United States (US) withdrawal from Afghanistan. The establishment of the Taliban interim government on September 7, 2021, is deemed as a visible threat to women in Afghanistan. The group with their conservative interpretation of Islam is critical of the presence of women in almost every socio-economic field of life. Taliban have also shown strong resentment against women’s education by banning secondary schools for girls and creating gender-segregated classrooms in universities. Taliban are adamant to impose strict restrictions on women and restrict their presence outside the household. Recently, the Taliban government issued orders for Afghan women to cover their faces in public places. Although some believe that the Taliban have politically matured, but when it comes to women’s rights, they are practicing the same old tactics of subjugation. Therefore, this piece aims to understand and highlight the plight of women under the new regime of the Taliban.
Prior to the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Afghan women were highly educated and employed in well-reputed institutions. According to a report, women outnumbered men in Kabul city, where 50% of the students and 60% of the teachers at Kabul University were women. However, during their first rule in Afghanistan (1996-2001), the Taliban initiated systematic violence against women. Afghan women were publicly beaten, flogged, and even killed for violating the Taliban decrees. The previous Islamic Emirate denied basic human rights to women which include, work, education, healthcare, mobility, and freedom of speech. In other words, women were put in a state of virtual house arrest during the previous Taliban regime. With the revival of the Taliban, it is quite evident that women will face similar threats and restrictions as they did under the previous Taliban regime.
During the US presence in Afghanistan, women’s status relatively improved in the country. Girls were allowed to attain education and excel in all fields of life. In the last 20 years in Afghanistan, girls presence in schools had increased sharply. The establishment of educational institutions increased girls presence to almost 40% in elementary school and 35% in high schools and 25% in colleges. In the last two decades, the literacy rate for women has increased three times. After spending twenty years, the US has failed to eliminate the Taliban and establish a rule of law in Afghanistan. Taliban took over control of Kabul on August 15, 2021, when President Ashraf Ghani fled the country leading to the collapse of the Afghan government. The new government in Afghanistan is feared to reverse the achievements of the last two decades. Such fears are endorsed by the Taliban’s policies of banning girls from attending secondary school. Contrary to their promises of inclusivity and protection of women’s rights, the new government in Kabul is set to reverse the US policies and put women under virtual house arrest.
The new government in Kabul has also deprived women of their political representation. After the demise of the Islamic Emirate in 2001, the subsequent governments paved the way for equal political representation of women. The Afghan constitution of 2004, increased mandatory female representation to 25% in the lower house and 12.5% in the Upper house of the parliament. During the last 20 years, women’s representation increased significantly in almost every sector including 35% of women in public schools as teachers, 12% in the judiciary, and 27% in the Afghan parliament.
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the economic conditions of the country have worsened. With the collapse of the Afghan economy, people barely have any food to eat and money to survive. Unemployment and inflation has increased drastically in Afghanistan. Instead of focusing on improving the living standards of people, the Taliban are more focused on setting up unjust rules for women and restricting their lives.
Although the Taliban claims to follow the true teachings of Islam, however their oppression and brutalities against women have no basis in the teachings of Islam. The Islamic teachings allow women to earn, receive education, and participate in every socio-economic field of life. The Taliban policies towards women are regarded as inhumane by the international community and most importantly by the Organization of Islamic Conference. So far, not a single Muslim country has endorsed the inhumane treatment of women by the Taliban. It is time that the Taliban change their policies regarding women and provide them equal representation in every sector of life without prejudice. Taliban needs to realize that strong and skilled women are prerequisite for the bright and prosperous future of Afghanistan. Also, by providing women with their basic rights, Afghan Taliban may as well get a step closer to getting recognition for their government from other countries.
Abdul Rehman works as a Research Fellow at Balochistan Think Tank Network, BTTN, Quetta and earned master’s degree in International Relations from the Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary.