The Taliban’s on-going attack on women’s rights in Afghanistan
By CEID Blogger, on 6 July 2023
By Shuhra Koofi, MA Education and International Development
This blog serves as a continuation of my previous article, where I shed light on the distressing university ban imposed by the Taliban on Afghan women. In this piece, I will delve deeper into the restrictive measures placed on women in Afghanistan and highlight the grave risks associated with recognizing the Taliban’s de-facto government. I start by examining the far-reaching implications of these oppressive policies on women’s rights and human rights as a whole. Then, I discuss a virtual exhibition that highlights the challenges faced by Afghan women in accessing education and their resilient spirit in the face of adversity. Urgent international attention and action are needed to support their ongoing struggle. To this end, my UCL MA classmates have created a virtual exhibition titled “Women’s Education and Resistance in Afghanistan”.
The Taliban’s Violation of Women’s Rights
Since their takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban rulers have implemented policies that have resulted in widespread violations of human rights, particularly against women and girls. One of the most extreme policies imposed by the Taliban was the pronouncement that girls would not be allowed to attend schools beyond secondary education. This policy, along with subsequent edicts, such as the women’s university ban in December 2022 and the prohibition of women from working in national and international organizations, including the United Nations, has significantly limited women’s rights and access to education.
The ban on Afghan women working for the UN has been widely condemned by human rights organizations and the United Nations itself. The United Nations Security Council has expressed its deep concern on this ban, stating that it will have a negative and severe impact on UN aid operations throughout the country, hindering the delivery of life-saving assistance and basic services to the most vulnerable populations.
Furthermore, the Taliban has enforced strict regulations to police women’s behaviour in public, requiring them to cover their faces and prohibiting them from traveling long distances alone. These regulations place the responsibility for the enforcement of these measures squarely on male family members, meaning that a male “guardian” can be fined and then imprisoned if a female member of his family goes outside of their homes without a male accompanying them. If the guilty male guardian is a Government employee, then they must be fired for the woman’s transgressions. Women working in the media have also been forced to cover their faces while reporting the news via TV screens, further limiting their freedom of expression.
The consequences of these oppressive policies have been severe and violent, with reports of widespread mistreatment of women. Women have been barred from attending amusement parks, public baths, gyms, and sports clubs, and are not allowed to work in NGO offices. Moreover, women have been completely excluded from public office and the judiciary since the Taliban’s takeover.
China’s Collaboration with the Taliban
In contrast to efforts to protect women’s rights, reports have emerged in recent months about China’s expanding collaboration with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Taliban commanders visited China in July 2021 and met with the Chinese Foreign Minister, who commended the Taliban for “restoring order” in Afghanistan and expressed optimism about their role in the country’s peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction. According to Al Jazeera, the Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced on August 25, 2021, that China has pledged to continue its economic assistance with Afghanistan. The consequences of China’s collaboration with the Taliban raise concerns on several fronts.
- Legitimising the Taliban’s authority: China risks legitimising the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan by cooperating with the Taliban and offering strong economic support. This could lead to other countries and international organisations following suit, further isolating Afghan civil society and weakening efforts to advance democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in the country.
- Providing the Taliban with the means to pursue its oppressive policies: The Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan was distinguished by grave violations of human rights, notably against women and girls. By providing economic assistance to the Taliban, China risks helping them to continue their policies and further deteriorate the country’s already poor humanitarian situation.
- Undermining regional stability: China’s relationship with the Taliban has the potential to undermine regional stability by escalating tensions with other neighbouring nations, particularly India and the United States, both of whom have expressed concerns about China’s expanding influence in the region.
- Encouraging terrorism: Concerns have been raised that China’s interaction with the Taliban may indirectly encourage terrorism, considering the Taliban’s history of offering safe havens to terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda and the symbolic safety and political gravitas that China’s support lends them. This could have far-reaching consequences for regional and global security.
China’s example has been replicated in Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey, which have all also recognized the Taliban rule, compounding these risks. The impacts on women’s rights will be long-lasting. The Taliban’s history of enforcing extreme interpretations of Islamic law, and twisting these to suppress women’s rights and freedoms, is well-known. By recognizing the Taliban’s de-facto government, China and the rest of these countries risk normalizing and legitimizing the oppressive policies of the Taliban, undermining efforts to advance democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Afghanistan.
Resistance and International Support
Amidst the challenges faced by Afghan women, there have been inspiring examples of resistance and international support. Women’s rights activists are urging the international community to hold the Taliban accountable for their actions and to support efforts to protect Afghan women’s rights and freedoms. Online platforms and educational initiatives have been established to provide education to Afghan girls who are barred from attending school. For instance, the BBC has launched an education initiative called “Dars” for Afghan children, especially girls, whose secondary education has been halted by the Taliban. This initiative provides educational content through a dedicated BBC News Afghanistan channel.
Additionally, a virtual exhibition titled “Women’s Education and Resistance in Afghanistan” has been created by UCL MA classmates, including myself. This exhibition aims at highlighting the importance of education for women in Afghanistan and the challenges they face. It explores the history of women’s education in the country, the impact of conflict, and the inspiring stories of women who have fought for their right to learn and succeed.
I encourage you to visit this exhibition on the topic of women’s education and resistance in Afghanistan and to consider the nature, value and significance of the messaging. Let’s come together to show our support for the empowerment of women and further raise awareness of the challenges they face.
The Taliban’s de-facto government in Afghanistan has systematically attacked women’s rights and human rights as a whole. Their oppressive policies have significantly limited women’s education and work opportunities, further restricting their freedom and independence. The collaboration between China and the Taliban raises concerns about the legitimization of the Taliban’s rule, the perpetuation of oppressive policies, and regional stability. However, amidst these challenges, there is growing resistance and international support for Afghan women, with initiatives aimed at providing education and raising awareness about their plight. It is essential for the international community to take urgent action to protect Afghan women’s rights and empower them to build a brighter future.