Taliban Takeover Foreshadows Dim Future for Afghan Women
Protests loom in Afghanistan as women object against the Taliban takeover of the country on August 15, 2021. Their demands include the right to return to work, access to education and governing roles—all of which were provided to women prior to the removal of the Afghan government. With the return of the Taliban in power, an immense question remains: what will happen to Afghan women’s rights?
Although the Taliban has vowed to respect women’s rights, just last month it implemented multiple restrictions on women. This includes a new dress code, and the segregation of gender in Afghan universities. They have also asked for women to stay away from work, besides those in the public health sector. Concern has brewed among human rights organizations as the current situation in Afghanistan parallels a similar one 20 years ago where, during the Taliban’s 1996 to 2001 rule in Afghanistan, women were subjugated to many gender-discriminatory policies. This included, but was not limited to, women not being allowed to work, not having access to education, and being forced to wear a burqa at all times in public.
Further, and similar to the past regime, the Taliban has stated that it will rule Afghanistan according to Sharia Law. Experts state that in some countries where Sharia Law is in practice, harsh penalties for offenses occur. When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, Sharia Law was harshly enforced and resulted in these gender-discriminatory laws. It is important to note that the concept of “sharia” is drastically different from the Taliban’s perverted interpretation of it; sharia is simply a set of guidance that influences Muslims in living an Islamic life. Rather than being a replacement for actual laws, it is a divine and philosophical concept. It is not inherently anti-woman nor demands brutal punishments for the violations of these guidelines. The Taliban justifies its discriminatory policies by using the term “sharia” to do so, however such policies are not accurate representations of sharia as interpreted by Muslims.
Halima Kazem-Stojanovic, a core faculty member of SJSU’s Human Rights Institute and a scholar on Afghanistan, describes the current dilemma that Afghan women face: “For these women, the best-case scenario is to be unharmed but forced to live a drastically diminished existence. The worst-case scenario is to be arrested or attacked for their past achievements or for their fight to keep their hard-earned rights.”
Although women are attempting to protest for their rights in Afghanistan, they are struggling to do so. During a protest in Kabul on September 8, Afghan women were beaten by Taliban fighters who stormed the area.
One woman recounts her experience: “They struck my shoulder twice. I could feel pain all over my body. It still hurts and I can't move my arm," Jia (name changed) said.
“It’s not ordinary—you have no studies, no lessons, nothing. Just looking at the walls. This is like a prison,” says a university student who has only left her home twice since the Taliban takeover.
In August, the United States joined 20 countries and the European Union in demanding that Afghan women’s rights are protected. They also pledged to send support, such as humanitarian aid, to Afghan women. The Biden administration has warned the Taliban that if it returns to its extremist ways in the previous Taliban regime, then it will not receive financial support.
In the countries’ joint statement released by the State Department, they express concern for the women in Afghanistan: “We are deeply worried about Afghan women and girls, their rights to education, work and freedom of movement.” Another joint statement released on August 15 states the countries’ support for a safe departure for foreign nationals and Afghans from Afghanistan.
In response to being asked by an interviewer what message she had for the international community, Afghan women’s rights activist Mahbouba Seraj states, “I’m going to say—really—shame on you…I’m going to say to the whole world, shame on you.”
In an August 24 statement by the G7, it states that the United Nations, G20, allies and regional countries will work together to address the situation in Afghanistan. The statement specifically touches on the righs of Afghan women: “[T]he Taliban will be held accountable for their actions on preventing terrorism, on human rights those of women, girls and minorities…”
With statements such as the ones presented by the U.S. State Department and G7, questions remain regarding how much leverage the international community has in controlling the situation in Afghanistan. Cooperation and political will are both factors that contribute to the future of the country.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesman, stated “We assure that there will be no violence against women” and they could participate in society “within the bounds of Islamic law.” What these “bounds” pertain to is unclear. Nonetheless, the recent actions by the Taliban has foreshadowed a dim future for Afghan women.