Taliban’s Afghanistan in Crisis: Taliban Tries to Erase Afghan Women from Society by Decrees on Clothes, Education & Travel, But Girls Fight Back For Rights, Survival

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Death in Slow motion: may probably be the best phrase to describe the dismal condition of Afghan women under the Taliban as the Amnesty International explained in their latest report on the ground reality of the year gone by filled with regressive policies for women and girls.  The fact is that during the first few days of the Taliban rule, despite the fear and panic that prevailed due to people’s understanding of them based on the previous rule of this group in the 90s, there were still some optimists. There was fear because people thought that this group would once again suppress and violate the rights of the people, especially the female population, as they did during their previous reign, however, there was also optimism because the chief spokesperson of the Taliban, during his first press conference on August 17, 2021, just two days after seizing Kabul, had promised that the Taliban are no longer the terrorist group they were 20 years ago. He had claimed that the group will not return to the brutal rule of the 90s and that this time women and girls will not be deprived of their right to work and education.

However, these seemingly hopeful words did not attract the people’s trust and Afghan women who well remembered the previous period of the Taliban regime. They were not ready to lose 20 years-worth of achievements overnight and once again disappear from the society. Most women in Afghanistan today belong to the generation of freedom, liberty and equality which they had experienced to an extent under the Republic regime. So, they came to the streets and formed the “Afghan Women Protest Movement” and fought for the rights of Afghan women since then, whose account has been document by this author in the latter part of this article. For now, we look at the starting point of the series of repressive decrees implemented by the Taliban from September 7, 2021, when the Taliban first introduced their Cabinet. The Taliban appointed an all-male cabinet. They abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and handed over the women’s ministry building to the reinstated Ministry of Vice and Virtue, which was responsible for some of the worst abuses against women during the Taliban’s previous regime. However, this removal was not only in the departments of government officials and the Taliban cabinet, it was just the beginning of a series of policies, meant to completely crave out women from society.

Only country where girls are not allowed to study: When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, students did not go to school for 32 days, because educational institutes, like most other offices, were closed for the fear of a power shift in the political landscape of the country. However, 32 days after the Taliban came to power, this group in a statement ordered the return of all male teachers and male students to secondary schools, making no mention of female students or teachers. Girls were always left with no future, deprived of their right to gain education with no fault of theirs. Later, in March 2022, the Taliban announced that they would open schools for girls and boys, but on the promised day, March 23, when the girls came to school with joy and excitement in their steps, the group reversed their decision and sent the girls home with tears in their eyes. Now that a year has passed since the presence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the girls of this country have not gone to school and remain deprived of their right to education. The Taliban have always been criticized and questioned for this decision inside and outside the country, but each time they state different reasons. Among other things, this group has said that this delay in reopening schools for girls is because they want to first design an Islamic uniform for schoolgirls. Apart from the fact which everyone is aware of that the old uniform of schoolgirls was completely modest and Islamic, the conceptualization of the design for any dress does not require a year. What is clear is that the Taliban group’s ideology remains extremist and misogynist and there is no difference between the Taliban of today and the one in the 90s. The Taliban have stuck to their decision to such an extent that the criticisms of the international community, the lack of recognition of this group by the whole world even after a year, the successive protests of Afghan women inside and outside the country, and nationwide campaigns on social networks have not been able to influence the decision. After the Taliban had been removed from power in 2001, steady and significant progress had been made in girls’ access to education, particularly at the secondary level, with nearly 40% of girls enrolled in schools in 2018 compared to 6% in 2003. Still, before the Taliban seized control of the country, Afghanistan had one of the biggest gender gaps in education levels in the world. This was due to several interconnected factors, including prolonged conflict and discriminatory norms and practices regarding the role of women and girls in society. These factors led to a context where, prior to August 2021, only 37% of teenage girls could read and write, compared to 66% of boys.

Take note: Apart from preventing girls from attending classes, other measures have also been implemented by some of the Taliban members in some provinces to prevent the reopening of schools for them.

    • On March 27, 2022, the Taliban turned a number of schools in Panjshir province into military bases and students have not been allowed to enter the schools. It should be added the due to the mistrust between the Taliban and people in Panjshir province, people even do not send their girls to primary school.

The script is repeated at the universities of the country. After the Taliban’s takeover, they kept public universities closed for both male and female students until February 2022. However, the reopening of universities was not the same as before. Apart from the fact that many professors and students have left the country due to the fear of the Taliban, those who have remained in Afghanistan face many obstacles on their way to pursue their studies. These restrictions most commonly include gender segregation in classes, restrictions on teaching female students by male teachers, and dress code. In terms of gender segregation, the Taliban ordered that the universities must ensure that:

    • Female students are taught by female teachers;
    • Female and male students use separate entrances and exits;
    • Male and female students attend university in separate shifts or days; or
    • When such measures are not possible, curtains or other physical barriers should be erected between male and female students.

In terms of dress code, the Taliban ordered female students to wear a burqa or a long, black veil covering their body from head to toe. In case of not following this order, the students have been treated harshly and also prevented from entering the university.

    • On May 15, 2022, three female students were beaten up by female Taliban officers at the entrance of Balkh university for wearing colorful clothes and using earphones. According to the witnesses of the event, these girls had completely observed the hijab rule.
    • On May 16, 2022, Taliban forces did not allow female students whose faces were not fully covered to enter Takhar University.
    • On May 18, 2022, Taliban members did not allow female students who were wearing colorful scarves to enter Shahid Rabbani University of Education in Kabul.
    • On June 17, 2022, a number of professors and students of Balkh University complained about the misbehavior of the university’s security officials and asked the Taliban to stop this mistreatment.
    • On March 13, 2022, Taliban officials at Herat university ordered girls not to wear make-up and short dresses, and not to record voices of male professors, which is considered “impure” by the Taliban.
    • On June 17, 2022, Taliban officials in Takhar province arrested 30 female students of Takhar university who were living in the dormitory on the charges of leaving the dormitory without permission. These students had gone to one of the gardens using the Friday holiday.
    • On March 9, 2022, Taliban officials at Badakhshan university ordered female students to wear long black veils and warned them that if they wear colorful clothes, they will not be allowed to enter the university.

It is pertinent to remember that these dress codes are not only for girls, but also for boys, who have received orders from the Taliban regarding their clothing in the university.

    • On March 23, 2022, the Taliban officials in Balkh university ordered male students to avoid wearing trousers and shirts or blouses and start wearing the traditional Afghani clothes (Perahan-Tunban), otherwise they will not be allowed to enter the university.
    • During the first days of Taliban rule in Kabul, a male student was beaten up in front of the Kabul University by one of the Taliban soldiers for wearing trousers.

Women are only allowed to work in certain specific sectors: Since the Taliban takeover, women across the country have been prevented from working outside their homes. Although, the Taliban have not issued a nationwide policy on women and work, yet some patterns have emerged through the Taliban’s directives on this issue. As in the Taliban manifesto of statehood, there are narrations that women should stay at home and not engage in politics. “Women should not go out of their homes unnecessarily, otherwise the work will be ruined”, the book reads. Most female government employees have been told to stay at home, with the exception of those working in certain sectors, such as health and education, or in some certain jobs where they cannot be replaced by men. Women have been denied any position in the Taliban’s cabinet or large gatherings which have been created to make important decisions, such as the scholars great gathering (Jirga-e-Ulema).

    • In September 2021, one of the Taliban’s senior figures told Reuters news agency that Afghan women should not work alongside men. Then, another order followed which was handed out by the interim mayor stating that female employees in Kabul city government institutions should stay home. The Taliban’s education minister also announced that gender segregation and Islamic dress code will be mandatory for universities.
    • On June 1, 2022, the Taliban prevented female journalists from attending a meeting which was held to solve the problems of journalists in Faryab province.
    • Following the imposition of extensive restrictions on women, the Taliban have ordered female employees in the Ministry of Finance to send some male members of their families to the ministry to perform duties instead of them. This is while some of these women are the breadwinners of their families, those who have lost their father, husband or brother in the last twenty years.
    • Interestingly, these restrictions did not end at this point and the Taliban soldiers even went to the UNAMA office in Kabul and checked the clothes of UN employees and tried to impose their desired hijab rule on UNAMA female employees.

Restrictions on personal life: Since regaining control of Afghanistan in 2021, women do not have peace and freedom even in their personal affairs such as freedom of dressing, traveling, shopping, going to parks and hotels, hospitals, driving cars or even mourning at the mosques and prayer halls.

    • In April 2022, the Taliban stopped issuing driving licenses to women. Before the Taliban took over Afghanistan, women could be seen driving in some of the major cities, including Kabul. But now, the regime has imposed this restriction seemingly creeping back to its old shell.

Of course, these orders were accompanied by actions:

    • On May 29, 2022, as per reports from Takhar province, the Taliban took out women without veils (burqas) and Mahram (a male family member) of city taxis and interrogated them with insults and humiliated them.
    • On June 14, 2022, the Taliban in Herat province warned the owners of shops selling women’s accessories not to allow women without a male chaperon (Mahram) into their shops to prevent sin and prostitution.
    • On May 6, 2022, the Taliban blocked a number of shops in Zaranj city of Nimroz province on the charges of allowing “women without hijab” to enter their shops and beat up the shopkeepers.
    • On May 11, 2022, the Taliban ministry of Vice and Virtue in Andar district of Ghazni province warned health workers not to treat or hospitalize any woman without a mahram (male chaperon).
    • On May 18, 2022, the Taliban’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue ordered the health officials of Nazi district of Nangarhar province not to allow sick women who do not have a mahram (male Chaperon) to enter the hospital.
    • On June 15, 2022, the Taliban attacked a wedding party in Faizabad city, the center of Badakhshan, and prevented the wedding party from taking place, because they claimed that the women in this wedding party did not observe hijab rule and were listening to music and dancing.
    • On June 25, 2022, the Taliban warned the residents of Jaghori district of Ghazni province to prevent women from going outside of their houses without a hijab. Otherwise, the Taliban will not tolerate them.
    • On August 1, 2022, the Taliban announced the women mourning Ashura in Ghazni that they do not have the right to attend the mosques and prayer halls without a hijab and Mahram (Male chaperon). Ashura is the biggest religious mourning day of the Shiite people, which is held every year.

No family time under Taliban: These strict strictures and imposition of restrictions on people have deprived families of the possibility of having fun and spending time together.

    • On March 28, 2022, the Taliban ordered men and women not to go to parks on the same days. In that decree, three days a week were reserved for women and four days for men.
    • On May 13, 2022, the Taliban officials in Herat announced that men and women, including husbands and wives, could not eat together at restaurants.
    • On June 13, 2022, the Taliban officials in Dasht Qala district of Takhar province ordered hoteliers and ice cream sellers that women should not eat or drink at such places.

In a series of hijab and cover-up orders by the Taliban, the group even ordered women’s clothing sellers to remove the heads of the mannequins. In another decree, they ordered male athletes to refrain from wearing shorts, this decree also included sports such as football and wrestling. The imposition of these restrictions on the people under the garb of Islamic principles and claims of “preventing corruption and prostitution” is sickening and unjust to the extent that not only the people of Afghanistan and the world, but even those within the Taliban and supporters of this group have criticized it.

    • On June 4, 2022, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Islamic Party of Afghanistan and one of the former Jihadi leaders, said that the Taliban should not “impose” special clothing restrictions on women and girls, because according to him, “covering the face, hands and feet of women does not include hijab”.
    • Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan asked female TV presenters in this country not to obey the order to cover their faces, because according to him, “this has nothing to do with the hijab and nothing to do with Afghan culture”.
    • On June 8, 2022, General Mobin, the former spokesperson of the Taliban police headquarters in Kabul, said in a television program in Kabul that the behavior of the Taliban has disappointed those who had high hopes for this group.

Restrictions have led to depression, suicides: Reports indicate that under the Taliban regime, the suicide rate of women and girls has increased. Although there were reports of suicides of women in Afghanistan in the past, but these cases have risen to dramatic numbers over the past year. Those who commit suicide are mostly young girls. From time to time, we have had three-four suicide cases of women and girls in 24 hours across different provinces of Afghanistan. In the table below, suicide incidents of Afghan women and girls have been recorded during the last year under the Taliban regime. (Due to the traditional nature of Afghan society, in many cases the family avoids mentioning the names and the cause of suicide of female family members)

Economic poverty, family violence and forced marriages are considered to be the main causes of suicide among women and girls in the country. However, it should not be left unsaid that the Taliban’s restrictive policies on women in turn has resulted into the destruction of their hopes and dreams for a better future and annihilation of years of efforts, that can lead to such a level of depression and the terrible decision of committing suicide and in some cases killing a family member or relatives. Most of the suicide cases are not being recorded because the Taliban won’t let the doctors record these cases, because they don’t want the world to know that suicide rates are sky rocketing. In cases where the victims are family members of Talibs, the doctors are instructed not to record those cases too. So, not all cases are being recorded and in actuality, suicide rates are far higher than what official records show.

Increase in early marriages: Reports indicate that marrying girls at a young age has increased over the past year under the shadow of the Taliban government. Although Afghanistan is one of the countries where the number of child marriages is high, this number has risen since last year. Even before the Taliban came to power, child marriage in Afghanistan, although illegal, was popular and 33% of girls were married before reaching the age of 18. Usually, reasons such as the economic poverty of the families and unemployment led to the early marriage of the girls of the family, it seems that with the increase in the poverty rate and the decrease in job opportunities in this country since August 15, 2021, it has led the families enforce child marriage, child labour, and selling off children. On the other hand, as most teenage girls are still not allowed to go back to school, the issue has led to higher risk of child marriage as education is often the best protection against negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage and child labour. This has in turn caused the loss of these girls’ childhood and terrible experiences of domestic violence, discrimination, abuse and poor mental health, difficult pregnancy and mortality of young mothers. The money that reaches the families of these girls as a bride price is then used for the survival of other family members. These cases are mostly seen among families where the male of the family had been killed or disabled in the last twenty years due to various reasons such as insecurity. The female members of the family are not allowed to work under the government, so for such families, selling one of their children for the survival of the other children, is sometimes the only choice.

However, Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada had said in one of his decrees that girls’ consent is a condition for marriage and they should not be married to someone without their consent. Well, on ground everyone knows that when it comes to marrying or selling a girl under the age of ten or even under the age of five, the issue of consent is not even discussed. Amnesty International in a report stated that many families had forced their daughters into marriage with Taliban members, as a way to protect the family. Amnesty International documented several cases where families had tried to do so, but the woman or girl escaped the situation; researchers did not try to access women and girls still in forced marriages with Taliban members, given the risks to someone in that situation. Forcing girls to marry Taliban members by their families has not always been for security reasons, sometimes they are for economic reasons as there are some cases wherein Taliban commanders and members have spent huge costs for the marriage, especially if its their second or third marriage. However, the leader of the Taliban in a decree asked the fighters of this group to avoid second, third and fourth marriages. It seems that the commanders and fighters of the Taliban, after years of war and their so called “jihad”, now consider it their right to have costly marriages and young second and third wives. These forced marriages have not always been associated with families putting pressure on girls, but in some cases, families have also struggled to protect their daughters from such marriages.

    • On July 2021, in Saighan district of Bamiyan province, few days before taking power in the country, the Taliban in addition to terrorizing the residents and looting local businesses, did something even more troubling: The group demanded the names and age of girls and women they said would be rounded up and married off to their young fighters, which led to the escape of a large number of families and young girls from this area.
    • After taking power in Afghanistan, the group was involved in a conflict with one of their disgruntled commanders in Balkhab district of Sar-e-Pul province, and news was heard from this province that the Taliban had their eyes on the young women and girls of this province and ordered the people to bring one of every ten young women to the Taliban, which led to the displacement of families and especially girls and young women, in the mountains and neighboring provinces.

Parallel to all the above narratives, what should always be remembered is the struggle of Afghan women and girls.
 The Taliban’s repressions and deprivations has led to the formation of “Afghan Women’s Protest Movement” who have fought for the rights of Afghan women and girls with protests, demonstrations, participation in international programs, spreading information, and advocating for the rights of Afghan women and girls, and in this regard, they have suffered arrests, imprisonment, torture, and humiliation. So, how did it start? Twenty years of work, effort, investment and all the achievements were dissolved in a matter of hours when the Taliban came to power in 2021. Armed with the knowledge of the background of the Taliban and the way of governance of this group in the previous period in the 90s, women did not dare to leave their homes and they all expected the worst situation to unfold for Afghan women and girls. Huda Khamosh, a representative of the protesting women of Afghanistan and a member of the “Afghan Women’s Protest Movement”, said, “When the Taliban took over the country, there was absolute silence for three days and the women were in shock and disappointed. However, after three days, they decided to raise their voices. They went to their offices and duties. They went on their own, came to the streets and tried to show their active presence in the society, so that they would not be denied their rights again, and this movement was formed spontaneously. But despite all these efforts, the Taliban imposed more restrictions on women each day.” Mind you, this has not bogged down Afghan women and they continue their struggle. Samira, another member of this movement, adds, “When the Taliban announced their cabinet, we saw that there were no women members in the cabinet, and this was the first alarm bell for us as Afghan women. After that, it was the closing of schools for Afghan girls, and thus, started the series of restrictions, but each decree made us more determined to expand our protests.

In her interview with Reporterly, Samira explains that at first, they published many statements, announcements and wrote many letters and encouraged people to join this protest campaign. According to her, the number of their members and supporters increased day by day, and now she is happy that they have been able to show the true face of the Taliban to the whole world. Another member of the Movement, Zakia Kawian Alizada, who had been working as the press director of the ministry of women affairs, before the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and now works as one of the managers of the Afghan women’s protest movement, in her interview with Reporterly said that the members and supporters of the movement were holding their protests collectively on the roads and public places, but after being arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the Taliban often, their scope of activity has now decreased and they organize their protests at closed places and on social media, with mostly unknown identities and covered faces. After the women of Afghanistan, especially the residents of Kabul, the capital city, protested against the Taliban and challenged the policies of the group against women, this radical group began to search the houses of protesting women and arrested some of them. Meanwhile, apart from arresting women, the Taliban have used other methods such as using tear gas and pepper spray, breaking and destroying protesting women’s phones, aerial shots, and chasing and threatening these women to suppress their protests. Samira says that their protests have been focused on the advocacy for the rights of Afghan women, reopening of schools for girls, removal of compulsory hijab, stoppage of targeted killings and improvement in the current situation for women in Afghanistan. However, Hoda Khamosh adds that they also engage in other activities. In her interview with Reporterly, Huda Khamosh said that this movement provides training to Afghan women and girls to advocate for their rights. In addition to that, they have set up schools that provide online and face-to-face education for girls above the sixth grade in different provinces of Afghanistan.

It should be noted that it has been more than 300 days that girls above the sixth grade have not been allowed to attend school due to various excuses by the Taliban.

Between the lines: Apart from protesting women inside Afghanistan, many women and men from other countries joined this movement and supported the Afghan women through these protests. They created hashtags on social media pages and expressed their demands using them. These hashtags include #LetAfghanGirlsLearn, #Don’tRecognizeTaliban, #NoToTaliban, #TalibanTerrorists.

The members of the Afghan women protest movement say, “In addition to the struggle for the rights of Afghan women, the effort of this movement is to show the real face of the Taliban to the world in order to avoid their international recognition. We are determined in our efforts and will continue our struggle so much so that we are ready to sacrifice ourselves and our loved ones for this purpose.” Huda Khamosh says that she has no expectations or requests from the Taliban because this group is not even ready to accept the existence of women and they have no plans to positively change the situation of Afghan women. However, she has called on the international community and institutions not to recognize the Taliban and to help Afghan women in their struggles and protests. Samira adds that as the Taliban have not been able to gain recognition abroad, they have no legitimacy inside the country among the people as well. She urged the United Nations and other international organizations to stand with the people of Afghanistan, specially, the women of this country. Kawian, one of the managers of this movement, says that these women do not get tired of their efforts, nor do they stop. “The women of Afghanistan will one day shape history because they will continue their struggle to achieve all their basic goals and reclaim their rights,” she concludes. These women still complain about the lack of support and attention of the international community towards the situation of Afghan women and say that they are alone in their struggle and their only supporters are the women of Afghanistan. They called on the international community and international institutions to stand by the women of Afghanistan in these struggles and not let the light of justice in Afghanistan be extinguished forever.

Zoom out: Zakia says that the Taliban are not committed to their promises to the international community and are putting more pressure on the people of Afghanistan every day. “The silence of the world in reaction to what the Taliban are doing with the defenseless people of Afghanistan is deafening,” retorts Zakia. “All of this will be recorded in the history of the world. The people of Afghanistan are paying a heavy price for the silence and indifference of the global community, and this unkindness will cause the loss of an informed and educated generation of Afghanistan,” she adds.

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