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The State of Women's Rights in Afghanistan

TW: Violence, Gender-based violence

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, at the Taliban’s first press conference following their acquisition of Afghanistan, added a pledge for the women of Afghanistan stating: “we are guaranteeing all their rights within the limits of Islam.”

What occurred in the subsequent weeks included ordinances for women to stay home, school closures, and movement restrictions. The disconnect between actions and words ultimately proved that the Taliban’s promises were empty ones - what exactly constitutes as women’s rights according to the group themselves is extremely narrow, with not only limits to women’s personal freedoms but unjust cruelty as well. Human Rights Watch notes, in their study into women’s rights in Afghanistan, noted that punishments go beyond taking away their liberty, including stoning, lashing, and amputation - all things one might be subject to if merely going for a walk without a male chaperone, or mahram (a member of one's family considered unmarriageable).

These examples of extreme and corporeal punishment have been features of Taliban authority, as Human Rights Watch’s reports in an article observing the Taliban. Women’s rights in Afghanistan have been in a precarious position very often because of the Taliban presence. However, with their recent rise to power, it is abundantly clear that the fragile conception of Afghani women’s liberty has been shattered. It is an act of injustice, afflicting a range of victims. The Taliban rule affects the freedoms of all citizens. While some are being displaced from their homes, others are experiencing extreme poverty as the economy worsens. Because of the political situation, local currency, the afghani - which was already low in value - is now worth even less. This is a plight suffered by all Afghanis. Still, it is women who suffer disproportionately.

Unchanging Agenda

Since the Taliban’s ascent to power, women with professional careers who financially support their families are unable to return to work. 26-year-old Zahra of Herat expressed her shock and sorrow at the Taliban’s takeover to The Associated Press. Zahra worked with local nonprofit organizations to raise awareness on women’s rights. In the weeks leading up to the Taliban’s takeover, Zahra worked remotely from home as militant forces marched towards Herat. Unfortunately, ever since Taliban fighters broke through Herat’s defenses in mid-August, she has been unable to work at all. Zahra lamented the possibility of being unable to return to her office, saying, “How can it be possible for me as a woman who has worked so hard and tried to learn and advance, to now have to hide myself and stay at home?”

There are women who have built careers for themselves, dedicating specific skill sets to their professional abilities. They are now expected to stay home and find new jobs despite all the work they have put into their ambitions. 43-year-old Noor Khatera, an accounts department employee at Azizi Bank explained this problem to Reuters. “I taught myself English and even learned how to operate a computer, but now I will have to look for a place where I can just work with more women around.”

What this ultimately represents is a regression of rights - the transitional period from Taliban rule in 1996 to 2001 gave women in urban areas of Afghanistan the rights to learn and pursue careers. Marianne O’Grady, Kabul-based CARE International deputy country director, attested that the accomplishments of women over the past 20 years have been so dramatic that going back to the way things were seems out of the question. “You can’t uneducate millions of people.” Still, there is a looming sense of dread felt by many of the women in Afghanistan. Their education, ambition, and successes can all be taken away overnight. Such an experience is devastating, especially after knowing a life without such restrictions. “I feel we are like a bird who makes a nest for a living and spends all the tim