The Taliban Continues to Suppress Women’s Rights After Regaining Power

The Taliban, an Islamist movement in Afghanistan, regained power this past August after ousting the U.S.-backed government. Ever since they have systematically suppressed women’s rights. Reuters reports that Taliban officials have said that “people’s rights will be honored, including allowing girls to go to school” once specifics within Islamic law are figured out. Women have not been allowed back in school or allowed to hold jobs since the Taliban came back into power, and many public universities are barely functioning. Officials have blamed the international community for education system issues within Afghanistan since large amounts of aid were cut off. The Diplomat reports that in 2020, Afghanistan’s budget was $5.5 billion, with 80% of that money coming from the U.S. and other international powers. The Taliban has not proven that they have the means to support the economy on their own, however, they are open to negotiating with the international community.

However, the Taliban is not as open to negotiating women’s rights. According to CNN, the Taliban have turned the Ministry of Women building in Ghazni into the “Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.” The role of the ministry is “to encourage Afghan people to embrace Islamic rule and…there are strict rules on how they can do that.” The Diplomat reports that the Taliban has enacted temporary measures that ban women from attending school and working. Women are only allowed to hold government positions that cannot be filled by men. The UN Security Council is the main organization involved with the situation in Afghanistan, but The Diplomat says that many of the proposed policies only involve women’s rights when talking about sexual violence and health, and women are not being factored into all areas of society.

CNN reports that the Taliban is acting one way in front of the international community and another domestically. For example, religious police carry booklets that contain guidelines for how to do their work following Sharia law. One member of the religious police states that “We abide by laws and rules. We give advice, but to grab someone’s hand, to beat him up, to send them notice or to send them a warning letter, is against the Emirate’s policy.” However, a citizen that CNN spoke to accused the religious police of physically attacking him for being gay. The Taliban is putting on a front for the international community to gain legitimacy. So far, the Taliban have made empty promises about women’s rights, as they have not made any progress on that front in the months they have been in power. The Diplomat argues that the Taliban “is tactically paying lip service to women’s rights to court international legitimacy and recognition while circumventing these rights in practice.”

While Afghanistan has lost the majority of its financial aid from other countries, that has not been enough of a deterrent for the Taliban. Instead, they are using their financial issues to place the blame on institutions other than their government. The Taliban has not had pressure placed on them for women’s rights specifically, and thus women have been trapped in their homes since August. A lack of women’s rights is not a new issue in Afghanistan. According to Reuters, less than 40% of Afghan girls attended secondary school in 2018, even though the law allowed all girls to do so. The foreign aid directed towards promoting equality and civil rights after the first phase of Taliban rule did not change the way Afghan women are treated. Foreign countries have been attempting to use Western philosophy to increase women’s rights. But, they have not been listening to people living in Afghanistan. Additionally, not enough focus has been put on including women’s rights in all aspects of Taliban policy. 

The Diplomat reports that multiple countries and international organizations have pledged to channel aid through the UN to Afghanistan. This aid can be used to remedy certain issues, such as food insecurity, but it will not be enough to completely change Afghanistan’s attitudes towards women and their place in society. International donors must make sure that gender is addressed at every level of aid for women to be involved in the process. According to FRIDE, women must mobilize during the post-conflict period to change power dynamics within the state’s institutions.

Due to the Taliban’s rigid interpretation of Sharia law, women cannot navigate their strict policies. During a meeting surrounding the topic of the Taliban’s takeover, the UN Women Deputy Executive Director, Anita Bhatia, stressed the importance of abiding by five key areas for action to make sure that women’s rights are represented in efforts to aid Afghanistan. She maintains that humanitarian aid must firstly “ensure neutral and impartial aid delivery.” Second, it is crucial to “hold the Taliban to account for the statements that they have made about protecting women’s rights.” Third, we “must put the humanitarian needs of women and girls at the heart of humanitarian responses.” Fourth, we “must stand firm in opposing all violence against women.” Finally, we must “must continue to push for women’s representation and leadership.”

The international community must abide by these pillars for women to be represented in the Taliban’s government and have equal access to education and job opportunities. Balancing the gender representation of the government should not be the end goal— instead, it should be a means towards reforming the system. The Taliban abides by plans set by the international community because they desire to be recognized as a legitimate government. Negotiation is a must, with women’s rights at the forefront of every discussion. Instead of women’s rights being placed as a separate category from other political discussions, it should imbue every dimension of political negotiation with the Taliban.

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