What the Taliban Takeover Means for the Future of Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

Written by: Anusha 

Edited by: Martin  

Visuals by: Mischka  

On August 15, the Taliban overtook the capital city of Afghanistan, Kabul, signalling the defeat of the democratic party. The elected president, Ashraf Ghani, with experience of working at the UN and a proclaimed champion of human rights, fled the country in haste as his government came undone. In a panic, thousands of Afghans attempted to flee the country, fearing that the Taliban will impose the “hard-line interpretation of Sunni Islam” (WSJ). Under this change of regime, women and girls are expected to be hardest hit, as seen in the Taliban control from 1996-2001, and should be prioritized by the international community in terms of evacuation and aid. 

The origins of the Taliban oppressing women goes right back to its founding principles. The terrorist organization was established on the basis of an fundamentalist ideology that creates a limited role for women in society. In the mid-nineties, the first time the Taliban came to power, women were banned from going to school or work, even prohibited from leaving their homes without a male relative accompanying them. Any woman who exposed her face in public faced severe punishment including flogging. This suppression of women’s rights was one of the important factors that made Afghanistan an international pariah back then. 

Perhaps that’s why, this time around, the Taliban has issued statements in order to / in an attempt to portray them as more moderate. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, promised that the “Taliban would honor the rights of women” (albeit within the norms of the Islamic law), and in a press conference, he claimed, “We assure that there will be no violence against women” (NYT). The Taliban also handed out headscarves in schools, signalling that they would permit girls to study and women to work. But most Afghans are suspicious of these nods to moderation, as the reality on the ground has been quite the opposite. 

There are reports of the Taliban going door to door looking for unmarried girls and forcibly marrying them off to Taliban soldiers. While some women do not feel safe reporting to work, others have been laid off from fear that the Taliban will target companies that allow women to work. According to the UN, “the number of women and children killed as violence erupted in the country hit its highest level since records were first kept in 2009.” The Taliban should not be able to police the territory if these acts of discrimination continue to occur and I believe that immediate international intervention is necessary. 

As for the community of women’s rights activists in Afghanistan, a few have been able to speak out anonymously and have disclosed the horrific hunt-down of the members of this community. One such unnamed advocate claims, “They want revenge on politicians and women who are activists in Afghanistan” (USA Today). This advocate was kidnapped, beaten, dropped near the airport and was then, “given an ultimatum: Leave or be killed if the Taliban found her again” (USA Today). Over the course of the last few months, the shootings of activists such as Malala Maiwand and more have driven other activists and politicians into hiding, resulting in pleas for international protection. An open letter sent to the Biden administration “called for direct evacuation flights for high-risk women and the expansion of special immigrant visas to include a category for at-risk women, among other demands. So far, those have gone unheeded” (USA Today). 

As women nervously wait to know what the future holds for them under this new government, some are pushing back, too. A few brave women in headscarves protested for women’s rights in Kabul. Some are showing up to work despite the uncertainty of their safety. Others have reached out to international humanitarian organizations for aid and protection. These women may very well be risking their lives in the pursuit of better conditions for all women in Afghanistan. But one thing is certain: the local and international institutions that were supposed to protect their rights have failed them once again.

Works Cited

Bukhari, Allia. “Taliban’s Return Has Afghan Women Living in Fear.” – The Diplomat, For The Diplomat, 17 Aug. 2021, thediplomat.com/2021/08/talibans-return-has-afghan-women-living-in-fear/.

Cox, Chelsey, et al. “In a CHANGED Kabul, Beatings, Fear and Hiding as Women’s Rights Activists Try to Escape the Taliban.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 25 Aug. 2021, www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/08/25/kabul-women-activists-hide-fear-taliban-take-afghanistan/5580807001/.

Stancati, Margherita, and Jessica Donati. “Afghan Women Are Already Fading from Public View as Fear of the Taliban and Uncertainty Prevail.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 19 Aug. 2021, www.wsj.com/articles/afghan-women-are-already-fading-from-public-view-as-fear-of-the-taliban-and-uncertainty-prevail-11629327049.

Stancati, Margherita. “Shariah Law, Women’s Rights in Afghanistan and the Taliban: What to Know.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 23 Aug. 2021, www.wsj.com/articles/women-afghanistan-taliban-shariah-law-11629489661.Zucchino, David. “The War in Afghanistan: How It Started and How It Is Ending.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Apr. 2021, http://www.nytimes.com/article/afghanistan-war-us.html.