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As the Taliban cement their position, they've been making clear their views on the role of women

Journal.ie logo Journal.ie 12/09/2021 Emma Taggart
Cheikha Rimitti et al. standing in front of a crowd: Women protest in Kabul on Tuesday 7 September © PA Images Women protest in Kabul on Tuesday 7 September

FOLLOWING THE TAKEOVER of Afghanistan by the Taliban, concerns about women’s rights have continued to grow. 

During Taliban rule in the 1990s, the regime imposed a strict set of restrictions upon the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan. Girls were mostly forbidden from receiving an education and women were denied employment. 

Full-face coverings became mandatory in public and women could not leave the home without a male companion.

In his first news conference on 17 August, Taliban chief spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid promised the Taliban would honour women’s rights but within the norms of Islamic law.

“The Islamic Emirate is committed to the rights of women within the framework of Sharia,” he said.

Worries about the lives of women under the Taliban regime continue to grow, with reports of women being whipped and beaten at a protest in Kabul on Wednesday 8 September.

Here is what we know so far about how women are likely to be treated in Afghanistan under the new Taliban regime.

Education 

The Taliban have announced that women would be allowed to attend private universities in the country provided they meet several requirements and adhere to restrictions on their clothing and movement.

Women can only attend class if they wear an abaya – a flowing robe – and a niqab – a face veil with a small window to see through. 

The Taliban education authority issued a lengthy document, on Sunday 5 September, outlining their measures for the classroom, which also ruled that men and women should be segregated – or at least divided by a curtain if there are 15 students or less.

Women must also end their lessons five minutes earlier than men to stop them from mingling outside.

To date, the Taliban has said nothing about public universities, However, further hard-line education rules for public institutions are expected as well, such as forbidding men to teach women – a huge problem in a country already facing a shortfall of female teachers.

“This will deal a huge blow to women’s participation in higher education and to girls’ education more broadly, negatively impacting their lives, work and citizenship,” UNESCO said yesterday.

It urged efforts to “clear barriers” to getting girls into schools, by hiring more female teachers, especially in rural areas.

Defiant Afghan women held a rare protest in the city of Herat, on Thursday this week, saying they were willing to accept the burqa if their daughters could still go to school under Taliban rule.

“It is our right to have education, work and security,” the group of around 50 female demonstrators chanted, waving placards.

Women in work

It has been reported that in some provinces of Afghanistan women are barred from returning to work.

A United Nations official based in Kabul said, on Wednesday this week, that the Taliban is already neglecting its promise to respect Afghan women’s rights,

The militant group has “repeated the same statement that women’s rights would be respected within the framework of Islam,” said Alison Davidian, a representative for UN Women in Afghanistan. “But every day we were receiving reports of rollbacks on women’s rights.”

For example, “women are prohibited from leaving the house without a mahram,” or male family member, Davidian said during a video conference with journalists in New York.

The Taliban have stated that under new rules women may work “in accordance with the principles of Islam” but did not give any further details.

Restrictions on the employment of women extend across sectors. However, some women, particularly those in the health and education sectors, say they have continued to go to work in the weeks since the Islamist militants took over Kabul on August 15, following a lightning offensive that culminated days ahead of the US pullout.

A nurse who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said she has not stopped going to the French-run clinic she works at, just as she had under the rule of ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

However, “some of my colleagues have left [their] jobs… and some are trying to leave Afghanistan,” she said.

Under the Taliban’s former regime, women were not officially barred from all professions but by professing to rule within the limits of Sharia, the Taliban made it very difficult in practice for them to access most jobs.

Last month, Doha-based Taliban spokesperson Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai told reporters that women had an “innate right” to work, study and participate in politics. However, he also told BBC Pashto in an interview that there “may not” be a place for women in the cabinet of any future government or any other top post.

Other indications are emerging that the militant group is not about to give up entirely on its beliefs.

After the ground-breaking Taliban interview on Tolo News, journalist Beheshta Arghand had to flee the country.

“Because of me, my family will be threatened by the Taliban,” she told diplomats in Qatar on Wednesday.

Threats have forced many women out of the industry.

Watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has said only 76 women journalists are still working for outlets in the Afghan capital  a huge drop from the 700 reported last year.

Outside Kabul, it added, “most women journalists have been forced to stop working”.

Politics and government 

The Taliban announced the make-up of their new government on Tuesday this week. No women were listed as members of the cabinet. 

Asked why the government did not appear to be inclusive – with no women on the list – Mujahid said: “The cabinet is not complete, it is just acting.”

“We will try to take people from other parts of the country,” Mujahid added.

A protest last week, showed women in the city of Herat calling for the inclusion of women in the new government.

“We follow the news, and we don’t see any women in Taliban meetings and gatherings,” said Herat protester Mariam Ebram.

“The talks are ongoing to form a government, but they are not talking about women’s participation,” Basira Taheri, one of the rally’s organisers said.

“We want to be part of the government – no government can be formed without women. We want the Taliban to hold consultations with us.”

She described how “most of the working women in Herat are at home”, out of fear and uncertainty.

At the United Nations this week, Pramila Patten – head of UN Women, a group that promotes global gender equality – said the absence of women in the interim Afghan government “calls into question the recent commitments to protect and respect the rights of Afghanistan’s women and girls.”

By excluding women, “the Taliban leadership has sent the wrong signal about their stated goal of building an inclusive, strong and prosperous society,” she added.

Sport

Afghan women look set to be banned from playing many sports. The International Cricket Council (ICC) is “concerned” about the fate of the women’s game in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s assertion that women would be banned from participating.

Ahmadullah Wasiq, newly appointed deputy head of the cultural commission, suggested in an interview with Australian broadcaster SBS News that the worst fears over gender equality in sport would be realised.

“I don’t think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket,” he said.

“Islam and the Islamic Emirate [of Afghanistan] do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed.”

“It is obvious that they will get exposed and will not follow the dress code, and Islam does not allow that,” Wasiq said.

The ban on women playing cricket in Afghanistan could have implications for the upcoming test matches and the World Cup.

Australia Test captain Tim Paine said on Friday he believes teams could pull out of next month’s Twenty20 World Cup or boycott playing Afghanistan due to the Taliban’s reported ban on women participating in sport.

The ICC has yet to decide how to deal with the regime’s stance on women and the Afghan men’s team is still scheduled to play the event from 17 October until 14 November in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Under ICC regulations, nations with Test status must also have an active women’s team. On Wednesday this week, Australia said it would cancel a maiden Test against Afghanistan in Hobart in November unless the Taliban backtracks.

Paine said Australian players were “fully supportive” of Cricket Australia’s stance and said there could also be consequences for the World Cup.

Additional reporting © AFP 2021

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