As the Taliban continue to cement their rule in Afghanistan, they have forced out the country’s Women’s Affairs Ministry of its premises in Kabul. In its place, they have installed “ministries of prayer and guidance and the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice” as a continuation of the group’s morality police that was in place during their initial period of rule in the 1990s. This ministry was known for violently enforcing the Taliban’s version of Islamic religious law, beating women that it saw as being dressed “immodestly” or who were outside without a male guardian.
According to Reuters, female employees have been barred from coming to work for several weeks, and authorities escorted World Bank staff out of the building on Saturday. However, this is not the only case of women being barred from work since the Taliban’s return to rule in Kabul. According to the Wall Street Journal, men in government offices have been called back to work, but women are being told to stay at home due to “security concerns.”
Additionally, female students are being denied their own return to education, as the Ministry of Education has now called for boys in grades 7 to 12 to come back to school. There has been no mention of whether girls can return, despite pledges by the Taliban’s minister for higher education that girls would receive equal access to education. However, this would be in a gender-segregated setting.
Despite this, women in Afghanistan are protesting their unjust treatment by the Taliban. In response to the replacement of the Women’s Affairs Ministry, Al Jazeera reported videos on social media showed the displaced women workers protesting outside the building.
In fact, social media has allowed women across the world to speak up on the Taliban’s Draconian rules, including their strict dress codes for female students. Bahar Jalali, a former history professor, started the hashtag #DoNotTouchMyClothes with a picture of herself in colourful traditional Afghan dress on Twitter. Women across the world did the same, showing that their Afghan culture cannot be controlled by the Taliban.
Unfortunately, many female activists have had to flee Afghanistan to protect both their own and their families’ lives. However, that does not mean that they are silent either. Many, like Zarifa Gharafi, an activist, politician, and former mayor of Maidan Shahr, have called for international governments not to legitimise this new Taliban government by engaging with them.
As Gharafi points out, this engagement is only “emboldening the Taliban and making its leaders believe that they can continue to abuse Afghans and still find a place for themselves in the international arena.”
Indeed, international actors should take all steps to send a message that the world will not engage with the Taliban unless they put proper human rights protections in place. In particular, that the Taliban needs to put into action proper equality measures for women in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch has called for leaders at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York to put pressure on the Taliban that human rights should be a priority if it wants to be recognized as a legitimate government on the international stage. This should be a common stance echoed across the international community. Otherwise, the Taliban will only continue its human rights abuses, and the civilians of Afghanistan will continue to be at risk.
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