After Afghanistan fell under Taliban rule on August 15, 2021, women hid in their homes, fearing for their lives. The educated burned their diplomas, struck with the memories of the Taliban’s last takeover in 1996 when nearly all education was banned for women, enforced through obscene, fatal measures. Women were killed for attending co-education classes and advocating for their rights; even teachers who merely spoke about gender equality were killed. But now, in their current reign, the Taliban is offering a more “gentle” approach to women’s rights, but what exactly does this entail? What does this new approach really mean for Afghan women?
The US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 overthrew the Taliban, who had taken control in 1996, and the US soon invested over $780 million dollars into Afghan women’s rights after this takeover. This allowed the dream of Afghan women in the workforce to finally be accomplished, but now, after the retraction of US troops from Afghanistan on June 15, 2021, this dream and other women’s rights established over the last 20 years are not only being threatened, but actively imposed upon by the Taliban. Women are being ordered not to leave their homes without a male escorting them, women’s healthcare clinics are being shut down, as well as many girls’ schools. Women who have left their homes without a male present have been beaten and flogged, the women allowed to go to school will only attend gender-segregated classes, and those brave enough to protest for their rights or challenge these enforcements are met with brute force.
Does this sound like a gentle approach?
The Taliban promises to respect women’s rights, but in the constraints of Islamic law, something dangerously subject to interpretation. In their previous takeover, the Taliban interpreted Islamic law through ultraconservative means, using this to justify their vast mistreatment of women, including public stonings and amputations. Older generations remember this, and reasonably fear that it will happen again, considering how women are already being treated in this current reign. The Taliban’s current actions are too parallel with those taken in 1996 – the detainment and beatings of protesters and journalists, for example – for citizens to trust that this current rule will proceed more gently than the former. Furthermore, the promise for a gentle rule on women’s rights is already being blatantly broken, with women in the recently-seized cities of Herat and Kandaha reportedly being turned away from universities and banking jobs.
So much about the future for Afghan women is unclear, but the majority is not hopeful. Considering the striking parallels of this rule to their last, it’s likely that the Taliban’s promise of a “gentler” approach will continue to be broken. It is our responsibility to spread awareness of these events, and make the voices of Afghan women heard. Raising awareness about this situation and calling for intervention from those who can help is important, and donating to organizations that help citizens find refuge can save lives. Please read the following quotes from the women fearing for their sanctity and that of their country, and consider donating to either of the organizations I’ve provided below.
Journalist Khadija Amin speaks about her, and other female employee’s, suspension by the Taliban, “I am a journalist and I am not allowed to work. What will I do next? The next generation will have nothing, everything we have achieved for 20 years will be gone. The Taliban is the Taliban. They have not changed.”
Malala Yousafzai, a prominent face of female education activism and who was shot by a Taliban gunman on her way home from school in 2012 tweeted this regarding the takeover: “We watch in complete shock as Taliban takes control of Afghanistan. I am deeply worried about women, minorities and human rights advocates. Global, regional and local powers must call for an immediate ceasefire, provide urgent humanitarian aid and protect refugees and civilians.”
A university student fearing for her safety as an educated woman under Taliban rule states, “Now I have to burn everything I achieved.” She also told of being denied public transport when fleeing from her university’s campus after the Taliban arrived, and the harassment she faced from bystanding men as her and other female students fled, fearing for their lives. She goes on to say, “I worked for so many days and nights to become the person I am today, and this morning when I reached home, the very first thing my sisters and I did was hide our IDs, diplomas and certificates. It was devastating. Why should we hide the things that we should be proud of? In Afghanistan now we are not allowed to be known as the people we are.”
Support and stand with Afghan women.