The Grim Reality for Afghan Women Under the Taliban


In December, the Taliban government in Afghanistan banned Afghan women from attending universities. On January 28, their demands became even stricter: women were banned from taking university entrance exams. A few days later, the Taliban ordered all non-governmental organizations to ban women from going to work. They justified this order by saying that some employees of such organizations were not dressing in accordance with the Taliban’s interpretation of the Muslim dress code. The ban caused a wide international response. Earlier last year, the Taliban denied girls access to secondary education, and universities have introduced separate schedules for men and women. This separation was established so that previously enrolled female students could complete their studies. 

The United Nations expressed its concern about the ban and condemned the measure. “The UN in Afghanistan and its partners remind the country’s de facto rulers that depriving women of free will to decide their own fate, depriving them of their rights, and systematically excluding them from all aspects of public and political life leads the country backward and devalues efforts for any significant peace or stability,” read the organization’s statement.

On December 24, in the city of Herat in the west of the country, several dozen women protested against the ban on attending universities. Security forces used a water cannon against them. 

The First Taliban leadership: 1996-2001

There were fears among the Afghan public that the Taliban’s attitude towards women had not changed since their previous leadership from 1996 to 2001. During this time, Sharia law was imposed in its strictest interpretation in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Girls after eight years could not continue to study at school, and even before that, they could only study the Koran. Women were forbidden to work outside the house and go outside without a husband or a male relative. According to one of the Afghan women who lived under Taliban leadership at that time, a four-year-old boy could pass for an accompanying man. In other words, there was more trust in a young boy than in a woman. 

Public executions were also applied to women. However, extreme forms of punishment were rare due to the high requirements of Islamic laws for evidence.

During the United States’ presence

By 2001, when the Taliban lost power, there were practically no girls in Afghan schools. In 2004, the country adopted a new constitution. It was aimed at restoring human rights and, in particular, obliged the state to develop educational programs for women. Three years later, the percentage of girls attending school was 41.7%, and in 2011 rose to 65.6%, according to the World Bank. Overall, from the period 2001 to 2016, the number of female university students increased from almost zero to 28%.

During the U.S. military presence from 2001 to 2021, Afghan women held about a quarter of the seats in parliament. The average life expectancy of women rose from 57 to 66 years. A woman could be a policeman, a judge, or even a mayor. 

The United States has repaired or constructed 205 schools, including primary schools, kindergartens, teacher-training colleges, vocational schools, and a university. More than 7,900 teachers have been trained, including 1,600 primary teachers. More than 25 million textbooks in Dari and Pashtu were printed and distributed across the country. 

Afghan women could also play sports professionally. In 2007, the Afghan women’s national football team was formed. At the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2021, Afghanistan was to be represented for the first time by a woman named Zakia Khudadadi, however, the Taliban came back to power before that.

The return of the Taliban

After returning to power in Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban, contrary to their initial statements, have consistently restricted women’s rights. There are restrictions for women to work in many industries. In some of them, women are completely banned. Girls are also no longer allowed to attend middle and high school.

Women who held positions in government have now lost them. Many of them are being persecuted because of the work they previously did. The situation of former female judges is especially dangerous because one of the first measures taken by the Taliban government was to grant amnesty to thousands of criminals. Now former female judges are being hunted by those they convicted of murder and rape. 

Women in Afghanistan are now required to wear full-face and full-body clothing in public places, and their male relatives can be arrested or dismissed from the civil service if the woman violates this requirement. Women are also advised not to leave the house unless absolutely necessary.

Some women lost their jobs. One of the few exceptions to this is in healthcare and education, where competent personnel are not easy to find.

Women’s rights in Afghanistan are under threat 

According to the UN, Afghanistan is a country with one of the most massive and systematic violations of women’s rights. The government uses religion as an instrument to control women in every sphere of daily life, attacking their freedom. The Taliban’s strategy is to only allow women to work who cannot be replaced by men. Furthermore, women who go against “religious rules” are consistently threatened, arrested, and in the worst cases, even tortured. After the Taliban came to power again in 2021, the number of children and forced marriages increased as well, reports Amnesty International

However, despite tremendous pressure from the Taliban and partial attention from the international community, Afghan women are determined to continue fighting for their rights at all costs. 

Featured photo by: Parwiz/Reuters. Retrieved from The New York Times.

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