Since their rise to power in August, Afghanistan’s new rulers have considerably limited women’s rights, stopping short, however, of reviving some of the more draconian rules they enforced in the past.
While, back in the 1990s, the Taliban gained notoriety for stripping women of almost all their freedoms, the group now claims it has changed tack and will respect women’s rights, as long as these are compatible with Islam’s sharia law, that is. However, as evidenced by a slew of new regulations put in place since mid-August, it is predominantly Afghan women who are finding themselves forced into a more conservative mold, in more ways than one.
Effective from Sunday, December 26, Afghan women are not allowed to travel for more than 72 kilometers (45 miles) without a male relative. The Taliban’s Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice banned drivers from giving rides to women traveling solo. Human Rights Watch has called out the decree as preventing women from being “able to flee if they are facing violence in the home.”
Earlier in November, the Taliban banned women from appearing in TV dramas and soap operas. That makes most foreign content off-limits for Afghan channels.
Sport is another big no-no for women in Afghanistan these days, the reason being that female athletes may inadvertently expose their face or body parts while participating in such activities, which is, by the Taliban’s standards, unacceptable. The group’s rise to power saw an exodus of women who did not want to put up with the new rules, and they fled to countries where they could continue their sporting careers. But it is not only women who have left Afghanistan – a good many male athletes have done so, too.
Deprioritization of women’s affairs
The women’s affairs ministry, established under the Western-backed government, was shut down in September, with its office now housing the Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
Education and work
Even though there has been no explicit ban against girls attending school, most of them are effectively barred from secondary education. The Taliban claims the measure is “temporary” and will be in place until the new authorities make sure all schools are “safe” for girls. The same is true for most workplaces.
Under the Taliban, politics and public offices are for men only. A Taliban spokesperson is cited in the media as saying that a “woman can’t be a minister, it is like you put something on her neck that she can’t carry. It is not necessary for women to be in the cabinet – they should give birth.”
Needless to say, a hijab is mandatory for Afghan women venturing outside the home. However, this is an apparently milder version of the Taliban’s guidelines from the 1990s, when a burqa with a tiny slot for the eyes was the only option.
On a somewhat brighter note, the Taliban issued a decree in early December that banned forced marriages and stated that women should not be seen as “property.” The document said that “no one can force women to marry by coercion or pressure,” while widows are now allowed to remarry 17 weeks after their husband’s death, and granted freedom in choosing their next spouse. That marks a break with long-standing tradition under which widows were supposed to marry their late husband’s brothers or relatives. However, there is no mention of a minimum age for marriage in the decree.
Not all women who remain in the Taliban-ruled country are taking the new restrictions lying down. There have been numerous women’s protests since the group’s rise to power, despite bans against such activity. In some cases, the demonstrators have been arrested or beaten.
In fact, the latest protest of this kind took place in Kabul on Tuesday, with Taliban militants firing shots to disperse several dozen women who had gathered to protest for their rights.
Another group of female activists in Panjshir province have recorded a video where they demanded an “end to genocide,” as can be seen in the video. Earlier this month, the UN issued an alert over what it described as “immediate and dramatic reversals on women’s rights and fundamental freedom” under Taliban rule.