Tali-Banning Women’s Rights

Sarah Shivakumar, Op-Ed Editor

On August 22, 2021, days after Biden announced the removal of all U.S troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban, an Islamist religious and military organization, surged through Afghanistan, gaining control of the country. The Taliban takeover is a game of suspense. And the waiting game is excruciating for Afghan women.

Repression was a component of the Taliban’s reign the last time they were in power, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This was particularly true for females. Women were unable to attend school, have employment, or leave their homes without the company of a male relative. Those who disobeyed the Taliban’s orders and their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam were subjected to floggings or beatings, which were often deadly. A lot of the Taliban’s worldview went under major scrutiny, especially after the 9/11 World Trade Center Attacks. The Afghanistan war that the U.S declared on the country in November 2001 became more than just terrorism. Women’s rights were a huge administrative agenda to the U.S’ mission there. 

Women’s rights have always been a rollercoaster in Afghanistan. According to TimeToast Magazine, in 1921, Amir Amanullah Khan, Afghanistan’s first diplomatic ruler, introduced the Family Code Law. This law bans child marriage and requires judicial permission for polygamy. In 1923, the first constitution was created, which bans slavery and forced labor. It also guarantees secular education and equal rights for both men and women, such as voting rights. Furthermore, women were allowed to choose their own husbands, rather than marriages being decided by male relatives. But in 1929, tribal leaders forced Khan to flee, and all of his reforms were quickly abolished. Afghanistan returned to Shariah law, traditional Islamic law that puts a Muslim society in a patriarchal system, where women do not have many rights. 1964 was the first year that their Constitution and democracy were modernized to allow women to enter politics, vote, and have the same public rights as men. Until around 1979, rights for women were becoming modernized in terms of education, marriage, and politics. When the Afghan government was overthrown by the Soviet Union and used as a Cold War asset in 1981, Islam idealists such as Osama bin Laden were attracted to Afghanistan to bring order and law back to the country.  1996 was when it went wrong. 

The Taliban came to power on September 1, 1996, and forced a severe rendition of Shariah law, mandating men to grow beards and women to completely veil themselves. The Taliban is infamously known for their relentless punishments for people who do not follow the rules they set. Flogging, public beheading, and whipping are frequently used by them, especially to women. After the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington D.C were linked to the Taliban, British and American forces ended Taliban control in Afghanistan on December 7, 2001. Until September of 2021, women regained most, if not all, their rights to political seats, voting, and education. In fact, the topic of women’s rights was used as a means of justification for the invasion of Afghanistan. “The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women,” former First Lady Laura Bush said in November 2001, according to Vox Magazine. 

President Biden’s announcement of the withdrawal of U.S troops from Afghanistan drew a lot of attention to the country not just because of the reversal of government in the country, but more specifically what this takeover would do to Afghan women. In a press conference, President Biden talked about how the US objective in Afghanistan was to conquer terrorism there. According to Vox Magazine, when asked about women’s rights, he said “the idea that we’re able to deal with the rights of women around the world by military force is not rational.” Much of the public reaction to the rights of women after the withdrawal, was split. People who sided with the President’s decision reasoned out that it isn’t the U.S’ responsibility to fight for a country that does not want to fight for itself. People who did not side with the President’s decision stated that the growth of the status of women in Afghanistan will not be of any use, because the Taliban would impose their strict, Shariah laws, over again. 

According to NPR Magazine, Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, promised that the Taliban would respect women’s rights. They claimed that they would allow for women to have the right to education, in gender-segregated schools and universities. The Taliban has enforced the strict dress code of hijab and head coverings. Pertaining to this, Ahmadullah Wasiq, deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, stated that the Taliban regime will forbid women from playing sports such as cricket, where their bodies might be seen or cannot be covered. When SBS News asked about the future of the national women’s team, the Taliban official suggested the outlook is not very bright. “In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this,” he said.

Women’s rights have a very uncertain future in Afghanistan. The claims that the Taliban spokespersons make are the very opposite of what is really going on. Ads and pictures of women on posters being censored by crossing out their eyes or their entire face. Taliban fighters using whips to flog Afghan women protesting the all-male extremist government is a sight that is not too strange to the country. Although the Taliban have been attempting to remake and better their image, women in Afghanistan are really holding on to the last bit of independence and freedom they have.