Afghanistan’s Women and Girls Lose Freedom Under Taliban Rule

Image by Joel Heard.

After the US pullout from Afghanistan last year, the Taliban promised to allow girls to study in school past 6th grade, but then reversed that decision. Today, erased from civic life, girls and women in Afghanistan live under tyranny and in fear, their freedoms suppressed by the Taliban who now prevent them from receiving an education or being able to work.

Having taken over the country as soon as US troops evacuated, the Taliban quickly acquired over $7 billion in American-funded military equipment that had been in the inventory of the former Afghan government before it collapsed, according to a new report released this week by the US Defense Department inspector general. With this military might, the Taliban has been able to enforce strict rules according to Sharia Islamic law, which forbids activities such as music, art and of course, education for girls.

From 2001 until 2021, according to a UNESCO study, the percentage of female education in Afghanistan rose rapidly and remained steady. In fact, Datasets from Afghanistan’s national entrance exam, called Kankor, show that the number of female participants in the Kankor examinations gradually increased over those 20 years. Since the Taliban gained power, the fundamentalist Shiite Islam group has whittled away at women’s rights, freedoms and liberties in the country. The question now is what can women do about it? The answer? Nothing, according to some.

In an interview with Chatham House, Afghan human rights activist, Horia Mosadiq slammed the Taliban for denying women basic freedoms. “The Taliban’s hardline gender discrimination is what distinguishes them from other insurgent groups, in Afghanistan or elsewhere,” she said. “They ban women from working outside their home, ban girls’ education after year six, deny women their right to political participation as well as their social, economic and cultural rights.”

She added that she was upset not only at the Taliban, but at the international community for remaining silent on the matter. “We were shocked by the lack of reaction to this decree from the international community, there was nothing,” she said. “As Afghan women and Afghan people, we feel betrayed by the international community because we fight daily against these rules. Women are out protesting, asking for their basic and fundamental rights. But there is no real support to help us push for these human rights and women’s rights agendas.”

Mosadiq said she has “very little hope” that anything will change now. Promises by the international community have come up empty. The Taliban’s promise to the international community were all just a trick according to Mosadiq, and the international community allowed itself to be fooled “because they needed an excuse to give the Taliban money and an international platform.”

Without assistance from the outside then, women and girls in Afghanistan appear doomed to live by the whims of the Taliban rulers. According to a report published earlier this year by Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Institute at San Jose State University, the Taliban has had a “devastating impact on Afghan women and girls.”

The report notes that, “Since taking control of the city of Ghazni on August 12, 2021, days before entering Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, the Taliban have imposed rights-violating policies that have created huge barriers to women’s and girls’ health and education, curtailed freedom of movement, expression, and association, and deprived many of earned income.”

Similarly, Amnesty International recently published its own report decrying the Taliban’s moves against girls and women. Titled, Death in Slow Motion: Women and Girls Under Taliban Rule, the report also reveals how women who peacefully protested against these oppressive rules “have been threatened, arrested, detained, tortured, and forcibly disappeared.”

Many people, like Mosadiq, have given up and no longer believe there is anything that can be done to prevent the Taliban from mistreating women and discriminating against them. But there are others who believe that more can be done.

For instance, Amnesty International said it is “calling for [the] international community to impose consequences on the Taliban for their conduct, such as targeted sanctions or travel bans applied through a UN Security Council Resolution, or employ other forms of leverage that can hold the Taliban accountable for their treatment of women and girls without harming the Afghan people.”

“The Taliban are deliberately depriving millions of women and girls of their human rights, and subjecting them to systematic discrimination,” said Agnès Callamard. “If the international community fails to act, it will be abandoning women and girls in Afghanistan, and undermining human rights everywhere.”

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.