Despite claims by the Taliban that women would not be discriminated against by its new government, the rights and freedoms of women and girls have been dramatically curtailed in Afghanistan, raising alarm among international human rights organizations.
After a nearly 20-year insurgency, the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, amid the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops from the country. The Taliban takeover prompted more than 120,000 people to flee their homeland.
Although there are internal divisions within the militant Islamist group, some experts believe that the Taliban regime is likely to remain in power for the foreseeable future. The Taliban and Western nations have clashed over several issues, including terrorism and human rights, especially of women. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said women in Afghanistan are experiencing "the biggest violation of women’s rights on Earth."
The reversal of women's rights has concerned the international community. From banning girls’ access to education to enforcing rules on how women dress, the Taliban has upended two decades of progress in women’s rights. The Afghan Constitution, which was established in 2004, gave women the right to work and receive an education.
A report by the group Gender in Humanitarian Action (GiHA) showed that women’s civil society organizations (CSOs) are suffering under the Taliban. Civil society is essential in holding the authorities accountable for enacting laws that meet the needs of vulnerable groups, especially women.
After the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, foreign funding played an important role in supporting female-led organizations and other CSOs focused on transparency and anti-corruption advocacy, election monitoring, and human rights.
Around 77 percent of women’s CSOs have had no projects in 2022 due to a lack of funding, while some heads of organizations and civil society members have left the country. Since the Taliban takeover, foreign donors have drastically cut aid to Afghanistan, where there is a major economic and humanitarian crisis. Western nations have also imposed sanctions against members of the Taliban government.
The number of women and girls in need of humanitarian assistance jumped from 8.8 million in 2021 to 11.8 million in 2022.
Women Out Of Decision-Making Environments
Human rights campaigners have accused the Taliban of trying to erase women from all public life. In June, several thousand Taliban clerics and tribal leaders gathered to discuss issues of national importance. But Taliban leaders did not allow women to participate.
Women were already underrepresented in the workforce in Afghanistan, varying between around 14 and 15 percent from 1990 to 2012. It reached its peak in 2019 when 21.57 percent of the labor force was made up of women.
A 'Domino Effect'
The Taliban has redefined the type of work considered appropriate for women under their interpretation of Islamic law. Most women have only been allowed to work in the health-care and education sectors, although some have been too scared to resume their work. Some female doctors and nurses also fled the country after the Taliban takeover, leading to a shortage in health-care professions.
The Taliban’s policy of gender segregation has also created barriers to women and girls accessing health care. At many facilities, patients are only treated by a health professional of the same sex. This has been keenly felt in a country where there is a high birth rate.
The devastating earthquake that struck southeastern Afghanistan and killed over 1,000 people in June also exposed the human cost of limiting jobs to women. According to local reporting, women affected by the earthquake could not receive medical care due to the lack of female doctors in the region.
Recognizing the need for more women in the health sector, the Taliban is asking for external financial assistance to increase training and employment opportunities for women.
Meanwhile, in the face of the Taliban’s mounting violations of women’s rights, the international community has refused to commit to long-term funding without a guarantee that women’s rights will be restored. The Taliban’s restrictions on female employment have had a clear “domino effect,” pushing the health-care system in Afghanistan to the brink of collapse.
Girls Banned From School
One of the international community’s key demands for increasing aid to Afghanistan has been the return of girls to schools. In September 2021, the Taliban banned girls from secondary education In March, shortly after announcing the reopening of schools for girls, the Taliban closed them again. This was followed by a wave of protests in Kabul that led to the detention of several protest leaders.
On September 10, just a few days after four secondary schools reopened for girls in eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban shut them again. There are currently about 3 million girls in Afghanistan who will not complete their secondary education.
RFE/RL's Radio Azadi recently shared a compilation of drawings, photographs, and letters by Afghan girls showing the psychological toll of the ban on schoolgirls.
Even if girls are allowed to return to secondary school, the exodus of qualified female professionals is likely to have a negative impact on their education. Weeda Mehran, co-director of the Center for Advanced International Studies (CAIS) at the University of Exeter, told RFE/RL that male teachers are not allowed to teach girls, so even if girls in secondary school go back to class, there will be a shortage of female teachers.
Women And The Economy
The Taliban’s restrictions on women working outside their homes have hit the Afghan economy hard. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimates that, depending on the severity of the restrictions on the female workforce, there may be a drop of a least 5 percent in the country’s GDP, equivalent to up to $1 billion.
According to UNICEF, the sharp decline in female employment has already resulted in a loss of at least $500 million for the Afghan economy in the last 12 months, translating into a 2.5 percent loss in Afghanistan’s annual GDP.
When the Taliban backtracked on its decision to reopen secondary schools for girls in March, Washington canceled talks with Taliban delegates in Qatar over releasing around $7 billion in Afghan government assets held by the United States. The White House also froze $600 million earmarked for education, agriculture, and health projects in Afghanistan.