Photo: Reuters/Stringer

Editorial: IWD should be the day of serious recommitment to help women in Afghanistan

Among the 200 people who left the shores of Izmir in eastern Turkey around 22 February in search of safety and a better life in Europe was Abida Jafari. According to her friends, she was an activist in her early thirties and led a youth organisation in Kabul. After the Taliban’s takeover in 2021, she fled to Iran and then left for Europe when her visa expired there.

But Abida’s dreams perished with her into the waters off the southern coast of Italy after the vessel carrying them sank, drowning with its dozens of people of many nationalities, including women and children, 80 of whom were from Afghanistan.

Inside Afghanistan, not a day passes without women being abused by the Taliban. Banned from schools, training centres, universities and their movements watched to ensure they are accompanied by a mahram, women and girls are right not to see their futures in the country.

Stuck behind the dark walls erected around them, they have not given up. They have used every opportunity to voice their anger, hoping that someone somewhere with enough power will do something to help them. Most often, they have paid a heavy price for speaking out and protesting. 

The Taliban has been relentless in its oppression of women’s voices. Using violence, harassment, detention and torture, the group has been able to push women from the streets into homes where they get together to hold protest rallies. 

On Tuesday, a group of women in Kabul took to the streets to protest against the group, knowing full well the costs of such an act. The Taliban’s notion of implementing the Sharia, they said, was to erase women. They knew, that just like Nargis Sadat, a women’s rights activist who was arrested in Kabul on 11 February and whose fate remains unknown, they could be arrested. 

What drove Abida Jafari from her home to her death in the Ionian Sea was what the Taliban has been doing to women and girls in Afghanistan. 

As the UN Special rapporteur for Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, the Taliban’s abuses of women and girls are “intentional and calculated” which could amount to crime against humanity. A member of the international community expressing concerns about the Taliban’s actions has become daily occurrences. 

It must now be apparent to everyone that pleadings and condemnations have not worked. 

For the Taliban to change its ways, the international community, especially the EU and the US, given the manner they left Afghanistan, must demonstrate greater seriousness. They must engage seriously with the Muslim world and encourage them to take the lead on dealing with the Taliban. And the Muslim world must make the religious case against the group in a more public and forceful way. 

Additionally, countries whose foreign policy priorities include promoting human rights should step up and cut their engagement with the Taliban and impose restrictions and sanctions on the group to make sure they understand the issue is of importance to the world. 

Women and girls in Afghanistan have demonstrated to the world that they have not given up. The International Women’s Day must be the day of serious recommitment to help them.