The Humanitarian Impact of The Taliban’s Restrictive Laws on Women in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is facing a major humanitarian crisis, with 28 million people in urgent need of assistance. The UN has reported that 4 million people, including 3.2 million children, are acutely malnourished. Millions of Afghans require humanitarian assistance to survive, with an increase of 16% in 2022 and a 54% increase in 2021. In the two years since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, the country has been in crisis; experiencing severe human rights abuses against women, food insecurity, restricted rights for women and girls, and restrictions on media and freedom of speech. This has led to increased detentions of journalists and critics. The Taliban’s limiting of local and international media has hindered access to information inside the country, leading to a lack of critical information and a fear of arbitrary arrest and detention for those who do attempt to report it.

The Taliban has imposed severe restrictions on women’s rights in Afghanistan, including limiting their access to education, employment, travel, and freedom of movement. They have also enforced a strict dress code and gender segregation. The morality police and the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has been enforcing these religious edicts, and the Taliban has also interfered with NGOs led by women or employing them.

On 24 December 2022, the Taliban issued a ban on women working with NGOs, excluding health, nutrition, and education. This has caused a disproportionate impact on women and girls, reducing their access to food, health care, and housing. In response, a peaceful protest was organised by the women affected, however, it was violently suppressed by Taliban security officers. The United Nations and Human Rights Watch have condemned this action and called for the rights of women and girls to be respected.

The Taliban have taken steps to control Afghanistan’s education sector by converting secular schools to Islamic seminaries and banning female students above sixth grade. This has been met with opposition from university professors and the Higher Education Ministry, who believe it will have a negative impact on the educational process. The Higher Education Ministry is ready to readmit female students once Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada gives the order to lift the ban; however, issues such as gender segregation, course material and dress codes need to be resolved first.

The ban on women’s employment in Afghanistan has had a significant impact on women and girls, leading to increased poverty and vulnerability for women-headed households. This has led to a severe human rights and humanitarian crisis, with a lack of funding for Afghan NGOs and the World Food Program having to cut 8 million Afghans from receiving assistance. The Afghan Trust Fund has helped with banking issues, but there are still many obstacles preventing humanitarian groups, local businesses, and individuals from accessing banking services.

Salma Ben Aissa, IRC Afghanistan director, reported that two years after the Taliban seized power in August 2021, 28.8 million Afghans require humanitarian assistance, with almost 80 percent of those in need being women and girls. The IRC says that aid has averted famines during the past two winters, but the proposed $4.6 billion funding for this year has only been covered 23 percent, compared to 40 percent of the previous plan. The IRC is calling on donors to commit to supporting the humanitarian response in a long-term and flexible manner to ensure the most vulnerable Afghans receive aid.

Human Rights Watch has condemned the Taliban’s oppressive policies in Afghanistan that deny Afghan women their basic human rights and put them in danger. They have called for the international community to press the Taliban to restore the rights of all Afghans and provide aid to the population and have urged the Taliban to abandon their abusive policies. Human Rights Watch is urging donor countries to act on the human rights crisis and support Afghan women’s demands for basic rights and equality. These policies have severely impacted women’s access to food, health care, and housing.

The Taliban and ISIS have caused a major deterioration in human rights in Afghanistan, including arbitrary detentions, torture, and summary executions. Ethnic and religious minorities have been particularly targeted, leading to many fleeing the country in search of safety. Governments must take action to ensure these vulnerable groups have access to legal and safety pathways.

After the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan in 2001, improvements in legal protections for women and girls have been made, including the adoption of the EVAW law. This law has been in effect for over a decade and has led to increased reporting and investigation of violent crimes, as well as more convictions. Despite this, there are still deficiencies in the government and Taliban courts that press women to pursue mediation within the family instead of prosecution, and the withdrawal of foreign troops has led to a lack of international support for advocacy and training. The Afghan government has acknowledged this and called for continued donor support to preserve women’s rights.

To ensure the rights of women and girls, as well as other vulnerable groups in Afghanistan, the government must act. This includes renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan and establishing a dedicated mechanism to investigate human rights violations. Furthermore, the Afghan government must call for continued donor support to preserve women’s rights and ensure that legal protections are enforced.

Donors can support the Afghan government by providing economic and social opportunities to women and girls, as well as investing in education and health services. Furthermore, donors should work with the Afghan government to ensure that laws and policies which protect women’s rights are enforced. Donor countries must provide aid to Afghanistan while avoiding supporting the Taliban’s oppressive policies on women.

The UN has been providing humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan for many years. This includes supporting the Afghan government’s efforts to protect and promote the rights of women and girls. Donors can also aid in the form of financial aid and technical expertise. They are calling for access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities for women. Additionally, they have implemented measures to ensure that women have access to legal protection and are able to participate in decision-making processes at all levels of society.

An independent assessment team should be formed with experts on human rights, particularly the rights of women and girls. This team should consult with victims and survivors of human rights violations, Afghan political actors and stakeholders, Afghan women and civil society, and members of minority communities. A public call for submissions should be made, with a suggested framework for information, to ensure Afghans inside and outside the country can provide their perspectives. The full report should be presented to the Security Council by November 17, 2023, and focus on human rights, particularly those of women and girls. Additionally, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan should be renewed, and a dedicated mechanism be established to investigate human rights violations and abuses. Human Rights Watch welcomes the appointment of Mr. Feridun Sinirlioğlu to the role of Special Coordinator for the Independent Assessment of Afghanistan. In their submission, they provide recommendations to the assessment which should focus on providing an integrated, coherent approach to address the current challenges in Afghanistan, particularly regarding human rights and the rights of women and girls.

The Taliban’s oppressive laws have had a devastating impact on women in Afghanistan, leading to a lack of access to education, employment opportunities, and healthcare. The international community can help by providing financial and logistical aid to organisations and initiatives that are working to empower women and improve their access to basic services.

Further action needs to be taken to ensure that the human rights of all people, particularly women and girls, are respected in Afghanistan. The appointment of Mr. Feridun Sinirlioğlu as Special Coordinator for the Independent Assessment of Afghanistan is a step in the right direction, but more must be done to ensure that the EVAW law is fully implemented, and the rights of women and girls are protected. Governments must take action to ensure these vulnerable groups have access to legal and safety pathways to make sure that all individuals in Afghanistan are free from violence and injustice.

The international community must hold the Taliban to account by ensuring that any peace agreement includes a commitment to upholding women’s rights. Making sure that women are represented in the peace negotiations. Investing in programs and initiatives that support women’s rights in Afghanistan. This will help ensure that women’s rights are not just a part of the rhetoric but are respected and enforced in Afghanistan. It will also help ensure that any peace agreement is meaningful and sustainable. Additionally, investing in programs and initiatives that support women’s rights in Afghanistan will help create a more equal and just society, which is essential for long-term peace and stability.


Martina Smith


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