Afghan women and the Taliban 2.0 | By Huma Baqai
By News desk -January 2, 2022


AFGHAN women under Taliban 2.0 are once again facing repression and marginalization. Many women fear a return to enforced invisibility they suffered for five years from 1996-2001 under Taliban 1.0.

The Taliban claim that their restrictions on women working and girls studying are “temporary” and only in place to ensure all workplaces and learning environment are safe for them.

It rings untrue with every passing day. New laws and restrictions surface every other day which directly impact women. Girls are returned from school gates, and women are told not to report for work.

The only women media channel has been shut down. Zahra Nabi, a broadcast journalist who co-founded a women’s television channel, said she felt cornered when the Taliban resumed power, and chose to go off-air.

The top tier of the Taliban actively seeking legitimacy and recognition in addition to financial assistance from the international community will have to respond to internal and external sensitivities and sensibilities.

Regressive policies being touted in the name of Islam, by the Taliban are neither acceptable to the international community, nor to the progressive women of Afghanistan.

Such policy announcements by the Taliban where authorities say women seeking to travel long distances should not be allowed on road transport, unless they are accompanied by close male relative (read Mehram).

The guidance issued by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also called on vehicle owners to refuse rides to women not wearing headscarves has drawn condemnation from rights’ activists.

Afghanistan is ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for women even before the capture of power by the Taliban.

Women issues in Afghanistan have largely remained under addressed or unaddressed, however, under the Taliban a regression is not just being feared, it is happening. Despite all the constraints and concerns, women in Afghanistan, under the shadow of war and conflict, had made spectacular progress in the last two decades.

They had acquired both a voice and visibility in the media, educational institutions and in workplaces. There were women ministers, governors, judges, police and soldiers; the Afghan parliament had a higher percentage of women than the US Congress.

The Taliban have gone back on their word; the Taliban 2.0 has literally gone up in the air. They had pledged inclusivity, not being vindictive, and had categorically said, women can work, and girls can go to school. However, what is happening on the ground is just the opposite.

Zahra Husseini, an Afghan activist had warned at the time of the negotiations that the deal between the Taliban and the United States will only worsen the situation for women in Afghanistan.

The United States may be advocating women rights in Afghanistan now, but back in the day when the negotiations with the Taliban were taking shape it had been a bit evasive on the issue of Afghan women.

Among many unaddressed issues was the concern about women’s rights and human rights, which were not even mentioned in the text of the US-Taliban peace agreement.

The female civil society representatives were also conspicuous by their absence in the talks. What is happening is the culmination of that. US calendar and not condition based exit from Afghanistan haunt the women of Afghanistan the most.

The gains made in the last twenty years since the demise of the last Taliban regime have largely been due to the pressure from the international community. International experts had a significant influence in the creation of the Afghan Constitution.

The Afghan government had used women rights and gender equality to appease donors. The Afghan women back in the day did not trust their own government to protect them fully. The lynching of a young Afghan woman Farkhanda Malikzada, by an angry mob happened in Kabul in 2015, and not under the Taliban.

The perpetrators were never brought to justice. Her lawyer Najla Raheel is on record saying, “Some government officials did not want forty-nine men punished for the death of one woman.” Women are silent victims of war across the world. The forty-year-old Afghan war is no exception.

In the new Afghanistan women rights need to be protected at all costs and the gains that the Afghan society has made because of female empowerment should only be consolidated, and not squandered away.

Voices of women who contributed to building communities and building hope at all levels should be a part of the new Afghanistan. Afghan women are fighting back, taking to streets, and protesting, even in the face of violence from the Taliban amid attempts to ban protest. This is not going unnoticed.

Human Rights Watch and many independent media groups are keeping a close eye on the situation. The Taliban can choose between responding to this in a positive fashion keeping their word and proving the skeptics wrong or face diplomatic isolation and financial strangulation. They are not a resistance force any more; statecraft calls for pragmatism.

The Afghans that allowed a walk over by them to oust the foreign occupiers may rise up against them, this will open the door for those waiting on the sidelines to get back again wanting the Taliban to fail desperately.

It’s not the nineties the world has changed. Taliban need to respond to the changing situation. The facilitated capture of power was comparatively easy, sustaining control is another story.

They must deliver, generate goodwill, prevent the economic implosion and respond to new realities on the ground including the demands of the empowered women of Afghanistan. One hopes it will not just be done to appease the international community and the donors like the governments of the past, but for the women of Afghanistan.

They should be given their due rights both in form and substance if the Taliban seek to become a civilized member of the international community. Foremost being the right to education and the right to work. Islam denies neither.

—The author is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi.

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