The Afghanistan Bulletin
Updated: Aug 3
Gender Apartheid: Women and Girls Under Taliban Rule
Afghanistan is the only country on the planet right now that denies basic rights to nearly half of its population by restricting women’s rights from education to employment to dress code. Since 2001, when the Taliban were ousted from power, women in Afghanistan were making slow but steady progress towards gender equality. Women began to hold positions as ambassadors, journalists, members of parliament, ministers, governors, became members of police and security forces and even ran for president. In 2003, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), also described as the international bill of rights for women, was ratified by the new Afghan parliament to promote and incorporate gender equality into domestic law. Women continued to be integrated into society on a larger scale, and in 2015 Afghanistan adopted a new National Action Plan (NAP) for Women, Peace and Security.
Since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021, however, that’s no longer the case. The regime has resorted to the “progressive exclusion” of women and girls to the point where in less than a year it has managed to make women “invisible, by excluding them almost entirely from society,” as the Human Right Council has put it. Despite Taliban initial claims not to rule harshly and respect the rights of women and girls, the policies they have implemented have reversed almost all of the gains made by women in Afghanistan over the last twenty years. The only thing the regime has been consistent about is the rollback of progress made by Afghan women and girls. Women are now subjected to blatant violations of their basic rights, such as the right to education, employment, adequate healthcare, and the right to move and travel.
The Taliban started by closing all girls’ secondary schools on August 15, 2021. They promised that this was a temporary policy, and ensured that these schools would open in March 2022. However, the week leading up to schools reopening, Taliban officials reneged on their promise and affirmed that schools would remain closed. Now, a year later, these young girls are still without schooling. The Taliban have also systematically enforced efforts to remove women from the workplace, prohibiting women from returning to work in September 2021. Further, Taliban policies have implemented a stricter form of hijab, requiring women to wear the covering when entering government buildings, taxicabs, and as of May 2022, women are required to have a face covering while in public.
Women have also been segregated from men in many aspects of society: when dining men and women must be separated; the work week for academic institutions is divided into shifts for only women and only men students; amusement parks are open on different days based on gender; and there have been reports of women being banned, from attending mosques for Friday prayers. Women’s right to movement has also been limited as new requirements for travel are enforced. Women are not allowed to travel on public transportation, in airplanes, or take long-distance road trips without male accompaniment, and the regime has stopped issuing driving licenses to women.
Afghanistan’s future hangs in the balance as a darker age is taking shadow over the country. When women and girls hold equal and active roles in societies, communities not only thrive but countries are more secure and stable. Study after study shows that peace and stability are not possible without the equitable inclusion of women across all levels of society. It is imperative that the international community prioritizes the rights of Afghan women and girls, regardless of what the Taliban's endgame is. In 2001, the world began initiatives to assist Afghan women. It has a moral responsibility to continue these efforts.