Opinion: Women and girls in Afghanistan need more than just reversal of Taliban bans

By Kazim Ehsan

The Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, has had a devastating impact on the people of Afghanistan, especially women and girls. The group’s gradual increase on imposing severe restrictions on women and girl’s rights have pushed them out of almost all public spaces. 

From banning women to getting without a mahram to running their own shops and businesses to traveling on their own to having the right to work and academic education, the group has managed to erase women from Afghanistan’s social scene with unrivalled vengeance, ignoring international pleas and condemnations altogether.  

Condemnations of the Afghan rulers’ actions haven’t been limited to international human rights organisations or Western government officials. The group has been chastised by the Muslim world too. The Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb, the highest authority in Sunni Islamic thought and jurisprudence, the the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Jeddah based International Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA) have all said the Taliban’s anti-women policies contradicted the Sharia. 

The United Nations did the best it could to sway the Taliban reverse its decisions, particularly the one banning women from working as aid workers, which forced major international aid agencies suspend their operations at a time the people of Afghanistan most needed them. With over 28 million people in the country dependent on aid for survival, 6 million of whom are on the verge of famine, the Taliban could, the UN aid chief, Martin Griffiths had to beg Taliban leaders to change its policy, but to no avail. 

In a last-ditch effort, and to show the seriousness of the situation, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, dispatched his deputy, Amina Mohammed and the Executive Director of UN Women, Sima Bahous, to Kabul in the hope that a delegation led by two women of Muslim backgrounds will sway the Taliban to change course. But they left empty handed. 

The Taliban leadership’s refusal to engage in serious negotiations to change course, has made some believe talking the group into changing its policies is futile. The Afghan rulers, they argue, are using women to bargain with the international community to gain recognition. The Taliban blackmails the world by 

For Rahil Hassan, a women’s rights activist in Kabul, “even if the Taliban lift the bans on women’s rights to work and education today, they will reinstate them tomorrow, because they are against human rights in general, especially women’s rights.” 

“The Taliban is blackmailing the international community by imprisoning women,” Hassan believes.

And even if the group decides to lift the bans on women’s education and work, it will make life difficult for them in any environment through other oppressive means, with no security and protection against harassment and violence in public spaces. 

Tahira Faizi, a psychologist and activist, says that we must not ignore the paralysing psychological impacts of the Taliban rule on women. The group’s misogynistic and abusive policies, Faizi says, will further diminish women’s role in society as well as making the society more ant-women.  

Anisa Mazari worked as a nurse at a private hospital in Kabul before being fired from her job seven months ago. She says she was constantly harassed by her male colleagues, despite working in a segregated environment. When she made a complaint, she says, “the senior manager at the hospital called me a whore and a filthy woman and called a guard to escort me out, who hit me with the butt of his gun, which still hurts.” For her, the Taliban reinstated women’s rights to work and education will do little without women feeling safe in work, in class or on the streets. 

Kazim Ehsan is a staff writer at KabulNow. He tweets at @KazimEhsan1.

Opinions reflect the views of authors, not KabulNow.