The United States and the Taliban signed a peace deal on the 29th of February 2020, bringing an end to America’s 19-year long invasion of Afghanistan. The terms of the deal set out America’s troop withdrawal plans and the condition that the Taliban enter talks with the Afghan government. As the talks have progressed, there has been fear the Taliban will aim to restrict women’s rights. The Taliban believes it goes against Islam to educate women as evidenced by them banning women and girls from attending schools and universities while they were in power during the 1990s. Further, women were not allowed to work and could not walk on the street without being accompanied by a close male family member.
Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace laureate who was shot by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ right to education, tweeted that it was necessary for negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban to include civil society and women. She continued that “girls’ education must be guaranteed. And the rights of women – from walking freely in the streets to doing any job they choose – cannot be compromised at any cost.”
Patricia Gossman, the associate director for the Asia division of the Human Rights Watch, said, “negotiations offer hope for peace after more than 40 years of war.” She warned, however, “for a settlement to be sustainable, a future Afghan government will need to provide security, tolerate dissent, respect women’s rights, and prosecute serious rights violations.”
Taliban leaders have said their attitudes towards women have progressed. Sirajuddin Haqqani, a top Taliban leader, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that they want to build “an Islamic system…where the rights of women that are granted by Islam – from the right to education to the right to work – are protected, and where merit is the basis for equal opportunity.”
However, it is unclear how dedicated Taliban leaders are to enshrining women’s rights despite the issue being of utmost importance. In particular, it has been recognized that keeping girls in school is a peacebuilding tool because when girls are educated, they are more able to help rebuild their communities as well as contribute to society.
In regions under control of the Afghan government, millions of girls were able to go to school. Whereas the parts of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban, hundreds to thousands of schools were destroyed to ensure girls could not get an education. For instance, in Ghazni, two-thirds of school-aged girls were deprived of an education. It was estimated by the Afghan Education Ministry that of the 3.7 million children who are not getting an education, 60% are girls.
Therefore, it is important the Afghan government protect the rights of women and girls which has flourished in regions under its control. This is because these rights, while inalienable, are fragile and can be undermined as the promotion of girls’ education has faced violent opposition. There have been encouraging reports of the Taliban allowing a level of education for girls in the areas they control. However, this is not the same as allowing girls a full right to education. Furthermore, the Taliban’s remarks during the ongoing peace talks conveys a low view of women who are not seen as responsible, autonomous, or capable enough to be a part of their negotiation team. This cannot bode well for women’s rights in Afghanistan without the support of the Afghan government.