The fragility of women’s rights in Afghanistan

“But can we trust the Taliban on women’s rights?” has been a favorite question of journalists in recent years. The answer used to be “no”; the answer now is that it doesn’t matter much. The The Taliban have returned to powerand dealing with them is the reality, again, for Afghan women and girls.

It has become a cliché over the past decade to say that Afghan women faced an uncertain future as the Taliban constantly expanded their territory. On August 16, some of the uncertainty ended, replaced by fear and despair, when President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and the Taliban, triumphant after taking most of the rest of the country, entered Kabul, the capital.

the taliban tweet these daysIt is new, but other than that, not much has changed. When they wanted to appear presentable to the international community during the negotiations in Doha, her rhetoric on women’s rights changed. Them fiance allowing girls to study and women to work, but usually with a vague caveat along the lines of “as permitted by Islam”.

Afghan women find themselves in the untenable position of looking to the “international community” for help. But these countries, chief among them the United States, are licking their wounds after two decades of military failure, and almost to the exit. Most likely they wish they had never seen Afghanistan.


Even as Taliban leaders offered somewhat softer rhetoric on women’s rights, there was still a huge disconnect between what they were saying in tv interviews and what they did on the ground, where their commanders often imposed strict rules that contradicted their leaders’ assurances. Local commanders have, in recent months and years, sometimes taken action, such as completely closing girls’ schools, even for girls of primary school age. The world saw, when they ruled from 1996 to 2001, how marginal the Taliban’s views were of what Islam allowed. Them banned almost all education for women and girlsimposed punishments including stoning, whipping, and amputation, and women confined to their homes unless they were escorted by a male family member, which denies them access to most jobs, or even a ride.

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In recent weeks, as Taliban forces have surged triumphantly across the country, the pretense of restraint was felt to be over, with alarming reports emerging from schools closures, movement restrictionsand women forced to quit their jobs. The Taliban spokesman has followed promise respect for women’s rights, but his claims ring more hollow than ever.

Countries leaving Afghanistan have claimed that they will influence the Taliban based on a need for development aid or a desire for Taliban legitimacy and recognition. These can be useful levers, or they can be illusions. Carefully targeted sanctions and aid conditionality, along with UN mechanisms such as UN Security Council actionsthe continued participation of the International Criminal Court, the treaty bodies, the special rapporteurs and the role of the UN mission assistance to Afghanistan present some other opportunities, if the Taliban are susceptible to such influence.

Another challenge is the limits of political will, especially on women’s rights. some countries, included Sweden and Canada, which have played important roles in Afghanistan, have claimed to have a feminist foreign policy, but even these have remained alarmingly silent as Afghan women watched in horror as the Taliban triumphed. Over decades of international presence, troop-contributing nations talked lip service and cash for women’s rights, but rarely political capital, and over time lip service and cash they also decreased. In 2011, the Washington Post reported on how efforts to support women’s rights were being cut from American shows. quoting an official who said: “All those pet rocks in our backpack were bringing us down.” Financing of US aid to Afghanistan it fell from $16,748 million in fiscal year 2010 to $3,120 million in fiscal year 2021.

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Mahbouba Seraj, a longtime women’s rights activist in Afghanistan, responded with a bitter laugh when asked by an interviewer what message she had for the international community. “I’m going to say, really, be ashamed.,” she said. “I’m going to tell everyone, shame on you.”

In the days after 9/11, images of Afghan women in flowing blue burqas helped sell war on voters around the world. laura bush gave a radio address on Afghan women and Cherie Blair gave a speech, imploring the world and Western governments to focus on giving Afghan women and girls a ‘voice’. Today, 20 years later, a generation of Afghan girls and young women have grown up thinking of the days of the Taliban as a dark shadow from their mother’s past, not a cycle that could rob them of their future.

The international community’s toolkit is limited and its political will is questionable. But as shocking as the Taliban’s abuses of women were in 2001, they are even more shocking now. Women around the world have fought for their rights, with mixed but important successes. In the last 20 years, women and girls in Afghanistan have enjoyed a certain amount of freedom and are demanding more. Standing by the side of Afghan women in their struggle and finding the tools to put pressure on the Taliban and the political will to do so is the bare minimum that the international community can do.