The World Watches as Afghan Women’s Rights are Under Attack
© Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri
The Taliban in Afghanistan is a feminist issue and it is time to sustain the movement.
You won't allow me to go to school.
I won't become a doctor.
One day you will be sick.
- Lima Niazi, a 15-year-old Pashtun woman in Kabul
My pains grow as my life dwindles,
I will die with a heart full of hope.
- Meena Muska
After the Afghan War of 1978-1992, the government was unable to establish civil control outside of Kabul, where most of the country was plagued by local militias and warlords creating localised conflict and unrest.
The Taliban began with a small group of Afghan religious students and scholars seeking to confront crime and corruption, and first seized control of Herat in 1994 and then Kabul in 1996. While the Taliban seized control of most of Afghanistan in 1996, they faced strong opposition for their strict religious ideology. The Taliban promoted gender apartheid, and prohibited women and girls from being educated or employed.
The Taliban faced increasing international criticism after harboring Osama bin Laden, who founded the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda, and was suspected of coordinating the 9/11 attacks against the United States of America. This resulted in the deployment of American troops in Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden and to deter other terrorist activity.
In 2001, the Taliban was defeated and this proved to be a pivotal moment for Afghan women and girls: around 38% of the women returned to work, 35% of the school children were girls, and universities were opened again to women. However, not all women felt safe enough to return to the public sphere.
In 2008 the U.S. military had shifted its focus to Iraq, where Afghanistan became vulnerable to a Taliban insurgency of which the U.S. was unable to do anything due to a reallocation of their troops. Taliban rebels returned to attack and regain control over the southern region of Afghanistan.
Since the 2001 involvement of the U.S. military, Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump have all made and broken various promises to either destroy or negotiate with the Taliban, with Obama first discussing the potential to withdraw troops in 2011. Trump eventually reaches an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw troops by 2021, which is eventually executed by President Biden.
In August 2021, the Taliban took control of Kabul, and the Afghan president fled the country.
For a full timeline of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, see the Los Angeles Times’s timeline.
© Illustration by Sarah Rahmani, Instagram: @sara_official_artgallery
Since its return, the Taliban has prohibited girls from returning to school, and implemented an impossible gender segregation at university. They have banned women’s sports. They have fired women who previously held positions in government. And they have completed disregarded the 2009 hard-won Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), having also dismantled the revelant courts and prosecutions units that implented and enforced that law. Recently, they are also inhibiting the work of women humanitarian workers, further isolating disadvantaged or disabled women, and worsening the overall crisis situation.
Heather Barr, the associate director of the women’s rights division of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), details how only male delegates from the UN, governments, and aid agencies were sent to talk to the Taliban about women’s rights.
“But does it really matter if governments, UN agencies, and aid organizations send only men to meet with the Taliban?
It matters a lot.”
Barr calls for women to be “front and center” in the discussion of women’s rights in Afghanistan. This should be excruciatingly evident. How can a room full of men possibly reach a common understanding on women’s rights? Who will hear the voices of Afghan women in a self-perpetuating patriarchy? When will positive change be implemented to support women and girls throughout Afghanistan?
The disregard for EVAW law is particularly worrying, where the escalation for violence against women seems inevitable in an environment in which perpetrators are provided with impunity. Most women and girls are prosecuted under Sharia, Islamic law, which does not encompass legislation for crimes against women. An example is that, should women or girls flee from domestic abuse, they can still be prosecuted for “attempting zina,” (engaging in extramartial sex) despite the act of “running away” not being a recognized crime.
Another horrendous crime women and girls in Afghanistan are subjected to is a “virginity test.” The violent and invasive examination holds no medical credibility and has been denounced by the World Health Organisation. In Afghanistan, it is frequently male government doctors who conduct these “virginity tests,” and often without consent. And while local human rights groups have called for an end to this practice, their use remains unfortunately common.
Unfortunately, the term “feminism” carries a lot of negative connotations within society. Many people are afraid to declare themselves a ‘proud feminist,’ in fear of being accused of hating men, or promiting non-egalitarian principles.
To be a feminist means to care about women’s rights. To want EQUAL rights for all genders.
The Taliban in Afghanistan IS feminist’s issue, and it is time we treated it as such.
Zarmina, an Afghan poet-martyr, posed the following question:
"Why am I not in a world where people can feel what I'm feeling and hear my voice?"
The Taliban in Afghanistan is a feminist issue and it is time to speak up for the women who have been silenced.