Home Current Affairs Afghanistan Under the Taliban: A Grave Setback for Women’s Rights

Afghanistan Under the Taliban: A Grave Setback for Women’s Rights

by Rudrakkho Pandey
0 comment 12 minutes read

Take a minute and put yourself in the shoes of the modern woman. An age where women are being given more and more opportunities to express their excellence in society. An age where society, slowly but steadily, paces itself to accommodate your rights. 

Now, take a minute to understand the plight of a burqa-clad Afghan woman. A woman whose only glimpse of a better life comes through the flickering images on a screen. A woman whose rights are equally suffocated — whether it be the right to educate herself or that of walking unaccompanied in a public park. Born into a world stripped of hope and equality, her worth is measured not by her intellect or dreams, but solely by her capacity to birth men. Such is the life of literally every woman in Afghanistan today. Such is a life deemed fit for her, by the Taliban. 

This article explores the implications of these draconian measures, the ideological foundations of the Taliban and the shadow of their enigmatic leader which looms large over the countless muffled female voices lingering under his thumb. 

Reign of the ‘Ghost Emperor’ 

Hibatullah Akhundzada, Afghan Deobandi Islamic scholar and cleric, is the man at the centre of a dynasty marked by myth and mystery. A dynasty that has been sowing unpredictability and fear amongst the country’s populace for years. He has been at the helm of the Taliban since 2016, assuming leadership amidst their triumph against U.S.-backed forces during the conflict from 2001 to 2021. Known for his elusive nature, he maintains a minimal digital presence, evidenced only by an unconfirmed photo and a few audio recordings of his speeches. 

Taliban Chief Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada.
Taliban Chief Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada.
(Source : Reddit)

“We will perform jihad and our Islamic system shall be implemented” and “Allah has promised us victory, and we must continue on this path” are statements that reveal his uncompromising, autocratic stance and unwavering faith in his mission, bordering on that of a hardened cult leader. This ideological rigidity and theological justification fortify his control, painting him as a stark antagonist to those seeking freedom and equality, and pushing not just Afghan women but every woman the world over back into darkness where their rights and voices fade into oblivion.

Echoes within silences

Every once in a while a few voices emerge from amidst the silenced crowd. Voices determined to get a message across. A message stating that a neutral stance on matters of such political and social urgency is not just being an audience to terror but an accomplice to it. Numerous stories of being lashed for wearing a stylized Hijab to stories of women being unable to support a family due to the illegalization of beauty salons make up the expansive testimony of terror coming from the masses.

A Taliban fighter stands guard as women wait to receive food rations in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 23, 2023.
A Taliban fighter stands guard as women wait to receive food rations distributed by a humanitarian aid group, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 23, 2023. A U.N. report says the Taliban are restricting Afghan women’s access to work, travel and healthcare if they are unmarried or don’t have a male guardian, a mahram. The Taliban have banned women from education, most jobs and public spaces like parks since seizing control of Afghanistan in 2021. (Source: AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Women in communist Afghanistan in 1972.
Women in communist Afghanistan in 1972.
(Source: Reddit
)

The stories of these women are heart-wrenching and illustrate the sheer depth of the crisis. Mariam, a young woman from Kabul, shares, “Every day feels like walking through a minefield, you never know when you might step wrong.” Girls, as young as 16, have been publicly lashed, and arrested for the apparent violation of the Taliban’s ‘Hijab Rules’. Girls and women are being accused of “spreading and encouraging others to wear a bad hijab” and using makeup, and their fathers are being lashed for raising “immoral children”. Another testimony comes from Layla, a teacher in Herat, who says, “We are shadows in our own land, unseen and unheard, stripped of our rights to learn, to teach, to be.” 

A march of the muted

Activists within and beyond Afghanistan have been protesting the ongoing terror in the country while deeming the international response to be quite sterile. Zarifa Ghafari who fled the country fearing for her life says, “The women and girls of Afghanistan have been abandoned,” underscoring the dire situation. The international community’s response, though filled with condemnation, struggles to influence change within the Taliban’s rigid power structures.

Zarifa Ghafari, Afghan activist, politician and one of the few female mayors in Afghan history.
Zarifa Ghafari, Afghan activist, politician and one of the few female mayors in Afghan history.
(Source : nobelpeaceprize.org
)

After the Taliban claimed its throne back in 2021, numerous local and Western authorities slithered away from the regime, keeping it at an arm’s length, while finalising deals with it regarding then-urgent issues like embassy protection, ally evacuation and humanitarian aid access. Over time, these discussions expanded to cover counter-terrorism, debt reimbursement and trade. It is important to note that the history of foreign officials attempting to use diplomacy and pressure to convince the Taliban to negotiate on women’s and girls’ rights, and a more inclusive government for Afghanistan, has been very heartbreakingly inadequate. 

The Taliban leader Sheikh Hibatullah Akhndzadah flaunts this signature modesty over social media.
The Taliban leader Sheikh Hibatullah Akhndzadah flaunts this signature modesty over social media.
(Source : The Taliban Times, X
)

The latest act of violence perpetrated by the Taliban, symptomatic of a strengthening spine, was the outright refusal of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ invitation to them for a meeting with international envoys in Doha, Qatar. The Taliban snubbed this high-profile gathering, citing protocol issues — they demanded exclusive representation for Afghanistan, a condition the UN could not accept — and expressing deep mistrust towards international efforts to extract concessions from their regime. This not only demonstrated the rapidly widening gap between the West and the Taliban regency, but also that the countries within the surrounding areas of Afghanistan have started demonstrating resignation and acceptance towards the formidable Sharia armada. 

Finally presenting a true depiction of the “Birds of the same feathers…” notion, the Kremlin now plans to relieve the Taliban from its list of banned terrorist organisations. Political pundits speculate that this union is mainly aimed at edging the U.S. power out of the shared region. While the Taliban gets cosy within Putin’s quarters, it continues to ignore the flaccid diplomatic demands being made by the U.S. 

Misinterpretations and misapplications of law

The Cambridge dictionary defines interpretation as ‘an explanation or opinion of what something means’, and interpretation is the art that the Taliban government has definitely shown ample talent in. Sharia law, derived from the Quran, Hadith and rulings of Islamic scholars, is intended to guide the moral and religious lives of Muslims. But the harsh application of Sharia by the Taliban has resulted in grave violations of human rights, especially against women. The dictatorship claims that Islamic belief justifies the use of severe penalties including public stoning and flogging. This harsh reading differs significantly from the more humane and compassionate interpretations of Sharia that many academics give it credit for.

A woman is lashed for attending a marriage that involved music and dance (prohibited according to Sharia Law).
 A woman is lashed for attending a marriage that involved music and dance (prohibited according to Sharia Law).
(Source : RAWA News
)

Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada has often justified these brutal acts as necessary for maintaining social order, stating, “The Islamic Emirate will enforce Sharia law as the sole cure for all of humanity’s problems.” His rhetoric not only reinforces the regime’s oppressive policies but also paints the Western world as morally corrupt. In his speeches, he has described the West as “the embodiment of Satan”, thereby framing his harsh governance as a righteous battle against Western decadence. An ironic sentiment given his recent stint with Ukraine’s personal antichrist, Vladimir Putin. 

“We will soon implement the punishment for adultery. We will flog women in public. We will stone them to death in public. These are all against your democracy, but we will continue doing it,” he said in an audio message broadcast on Afghan state television. This was directed towards the set of countries he describes universally as “The West”. This shows a growing malice, intertwined with a rapidly straightening spine of the Taliban in the face of modern democracy, and no doubt strengthened by weakening assertiveness from the international community. 

A united stand against oppression

The global community has raised alarm over the resurgence of the rule of the Taliban particularly concerning women’s rights activists who are witnessing firsthand the impact of these policies on Afghan women. Despite facing risks, these advocates bravely speak out against these actions and appeal for international assistance to shed light on the critical situation. “We are seeing a decline in women’s rights in Afghanistan — women are being marginalised from life facing brutal punishments just for pursuing education or basic liberties,” expressed Malalai Joya, a former Afghan leader and advocate. Her message, along with others, serves as a plea to the world not to ignore the plight of these women.

Non-profit organisations (NPOs) working in Afghanistan are encountering difficulties as well. The constraints imposed by the Taliban greatly impede their operations and aid distribution in areas concerning women’s health and education. An unidentified NPO worker in Kabul expressed, “We face fear each day, aware that our work could be halted or worse targeted for offering assistance.” This atmosphere of apprehension significantly hinders their ability to offer services and champion just causes.

Internationally, there is a strong desire among organisations to intervene and support Afghan women, but they face logistical and political hurdles that complicate these efforts. The United Nations and various human rights groups have repeatedly expressed their condemnation of the Taliban’s actions and have called for international sanctions and interventions. “The global community must take decisive action to pressure the Taliban to change these oppressive policies. Our solidarity and actions can restore hope and possibly change the fate of many,” urges Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

An illustration depicting the freedom of movement for Afghan women across time.
An series of inverted pyramid diagrams showing how Afghan women’s freedom of movement has changed across time. (Source: unwomen.org)

Audre Lorde, a “Black, lesbian, feminist, socialist, mother, warrior, poet”, who felt there could be “no hierarchy of oppressions” and committed her life and gifts to fighting injustice in all its manifestations, once stated: 

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

This quote is evidence that no matter the age or time, oppression and the means to fight back against it remain timeless. The plight of Afghan women is not just a distant issue; it is a stark challenge to our shared humanity. Because, in the end, a world that can tolerate tyranny against any woman is one that can tolerate it against all women. 

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