Afghan women's rights should be on the table in talks with the Taliban

Females are banned from employment, travelling alone within the country, or abroad without a male guardian

By Amal Al Breiki

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Published: Wed 20 Apr 2022, 11:13 PM

Within days of the conquest of Kabul, the Taliban reassured the international community, trapping them in a bubble of wishful thinking. The group promised the world a reinvigorated moderate Taliban, which only set them up for the ultimate litmus test that they expectedly failed.

The Taliban reinstated the Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in place of the Ministry of Women, their first step in eliminating the Afghan female from its institutional landscape. They followed it by banning women from employment, travelling alone within the country, or abroad without a male guardian.

They deprived millions of students – more than one million girls to be precise – of access to education by shutting down schools and universities across the country. It brought an entire academic year to a halt, forcing them to miss 200 days of school. Recently, university students resumed their classes with tight restrictions on mixing genders. Millions of Afghanistan’s younger pupils were scheduled to return to their schools on March 23.

The day was cut short for girls aged 13 and above when the Taliban turned them back, announcing that older girls were not permitted to be back to school yet—unleashing a nationwide outcry. The group cited disagreements on uniforms, staff shortage, and poor infrastructure as their very own peg for the group’s consensus that girls are not to be educated. In a much larger scheme, it was an ugly facet of the seclusion of Afghan women and girls.

Ironically, heads of the Taliban continue to educate their daughters overseas. This happens even as they scramble in Kandahar to find ill-founded claims to stop other Afghan girls from getting theirs. The dichotomy exposes a fractured facade, leaving even loyalists questioning.

Following the closure, Afghan girls chanted, “we want to study!” the reverberations filled the streets of Afghanistan despite the risk that accompanies female protestors. Petitions were signed by hundreds of Afghan women urging their governors to act. Videos coming out of Afghanistan of young girls calling for the reopening, sabotaging Taliban-led events, and poking holes in the group’s logic with a simple argument of “studying is not a crime; it is not a sin.”

#LetAfghanGirlsLearn has been an active hashtag for seven months straight, with many refusing to let it die down without fully lifting the ban on girls’ education.

The last few months have demonstrated that the Taliban will continue to fail to dampen Afghan women’s fervor for freedom and reclaim what is rightfully theirs. Pashtana Dorani, the founder of LEARN Afghanistan, said it best: “I will raise an army, just like the Taliban did – only mine will be of educated, determined Afghan women.”

The group’s embittered acts against Afghan women 20 years of prosperity transcends any ideology. Each decree passed, violation committed, voice silenced, and insult uttered against Afghan women by the Taliban have been categorically vindictive.

The stage of solely holding the Taliban accountable is over, primarily when states and international organizations have settled for misplaced sanctions, sternly worded statements, and empty threats in dealing with an opponent they fail to understand nor deter. Until the international community acknowledges the role they played in the current histrionics of the Taliban and understands its brute nature – one that fears educated women, believes a gun and a religious doctrine are all is needed – states should be held accountable.

In a counterproductive move, the World Bank recently suspended humanitarian aid allocated to ensure Afghan women are granted access to services in education, health, and agriculture as a response to the group’s abrupt backtracked decision. The Afghan people are not to be targets of retaliatory acts against the Taliban. Afghans inside Afghanistan and abroad have stressed the danger of halting such projects when the future of generations is at stake.

While the Taliban extended its ban on girls’ schools indefinitely, cases of systematic violence against women have worsened by the day; numbers that made it to the media reveal that at least 45 women have been murdered since the Taliban took over. Many of them are educated, accomplished women.

The reintegration of women into society and the reopening of girls’ schools should be at the forefront of negotiations with the group. The international community queered the pitch for the Taliban to re-emerge, ignoring two decades of progress. Now, they should not be complicit contributors to the oppression and subjugation of Afghan women.

The writer is a researcher at TRENDS Research and Advisory in Abu Dhabi

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