Afghan Women Facing Old Pressures Following Taliban Return

On Tuesday, December 28th, a crowd of about 30 women gathered to march through the Afghan capital of Kabul, demanding the national respect of women’s rights. The march began in the center of the city but was stopped by Taliban forces after only a few hundred meters. The protesters were calling for justice by raising awareness of the inhuman restrictions women are facing under Taliban rule. Additionally, various videos posted online show protests held around the capital further calling for women to be opportunities for education and work. According to Al Jazeera, since the Taliban returned to power in August, their rule has hampered the expansion of women’s rights to education and freedom of speech, banned unsanctioned protests, and frequently blocked demonstrations against its rule. 

This past weekend, the Taliban ruled government issued new guidelines banning women from traveling long distances unless escorted by a close male relative. The new regulations were one of the main reasons prompting the march in Kabul on Tuesday, which the Taliban tried to control by detaining journalists and confiscating cameras. Mahbooba Saraj, chair of the Afghan Women’s Network, said the enforced guidelines made it difficult for women to live a normal life, emphasizing how many women do not have a male guardian to accompany them. “This is another way of placing restrictions on women for no apparent reason,” she told Al Jazeera. Furthermore, UN Women explained the reversals of women’s freedom as urgent and dramatic: “Families are also self-censoring and imposing restrictions on the mobility of women and girls as a protection measure,” the agency explained, pointing to how the fear of the Taliban prevents women from living freely. Committed to supporting Afghan women, the U.S. and its western allies have recognized the Taliban’s new guidelines as highly problematic. They consider the Taliban’s respect for women’s rights as a precondition to recognizing the legitimacy of their rule.

Taliban rule is a clear threat to women’s freedoms, professional lives, and education.  In a society where women have no place in public life, women’s rights are often fragile, and the demonstrations for women’s rights are therefore crucial in raising awareness of these new, discriminating restrictions. The U.S and Western nations have a responsibility to act in circumstances where citizens fear their leadership. International organizations such as Amnesty and the UN also have the power to increase knowledge about the critical situation in Afghanistan and what other nations can do to help keep the women protected. 

During the 20 years of American-led international involvement in Afghanistan, empowering women was a key ambition. The change was especially noticeable in cities such as Kabul, where women pursued careers in politics, journalism, and law. Even in Afghanistan’s patriarchal society, women in the cities had increasing opportunities to create independence for themselves. ​​However, since August, women have been banned from many workplaces, and schools for girls over sixth grade are not allowed in most of the country. Shelters for victims of domestic violence have been shut down, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been dissolved. In addition, due to the fear of harassment by Taliban troops and the demand for women to be accompanied by a male guardian, many women are too frightened to go outside. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Taliban follow the ultra-conservative rural traditions of Afghanistan’s Pashtun belt, but restricting women’s education and work is far beyond what Islamic scholars elsewhere in the world consider as applicable. While Afghan men in cities such as Kabul recognize the views as too extreme, many still believe that women are better off at home. The regime is encouraging men to tell their daughters, sisters, and wives to adapt to the new restrictions, which is changing the family dynamic drastically. Afghan women express concern that men around them have become more aggressive in their behavior. 

The Taliban takeover changed everything for the citizens of Afghanistan, especially the living standards for women and children. Family dynamics are changing as some men see their chance to assert power under the new Taliban restrictions. The U.S and Western Europe must recognize the human rights currently being violated in the country and continue to support its citizens. Restrictions on women’s rights are diminishing their position in society and limiting their ability to take care of themselves, increasing their dependence on male relatives. This is not only harmful to the quality of life for the individual but also for the future of the country. International organizations must support Afghan women who are sacrificing everything to fight for their rights and independence.

Olivia Berntsson