It’s been nearly a year since we pulled US troops from Afghanistan and already the impact on women’s rights is stark.
The rollback began almost immediately after the Taliban seized control in August 2021, sparking mass protests that were punished with unlawful arrest and torture.
The Taliban banned protests in September 2021 and began raiding the homes of protest organizers in January 2022. Not surprisingly, Taliban members ignored due process and failed to adhere to the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
According to three Afghan women who spoke with Human Rights Watch, protestors and their families were arrested and detained in cramped quarters for weeks. Journalists who covered the protests were also detained.
At the mercy of the Taliban, prisoners were subjected to threats, beatings, pepper spray, and electric shock and had rare access to food and bathrooms. Several children were near death before a local doctor convinced Taliban members to move the kids to a larger room with better ventilation.
“[Our families] are really in danger,” said a former prisoner who spoke with reporters under the pseudonym Hypatia. “But we can’t stop [fighting]. Maybe some countries will recognize the Taliban. Some countries don’t know that the Taliban are lying. They just want to fight for power. I am fighting for my life.”
After being captured, Hypatia and others were forced to surrender their cell phones for investigation. Mothers were separated from their children and male prisoners were beaten within earshot of their wives. Some were even forced to relinquish property deeds as a condition of release.
“A girl from my village killed herself,” admits Hypatia. “There is no media to cover what is happening…One of my relatives with eight kids has disappeared. His wife can’t feed the kids. There is no information about the north. No one knows what is happening there…We don’t know why the world left us like this.”
Protestors aren’t the only ones suffering at the hands of the Taliban. Young women who were allowed to go to school before the takeover are now stuck at home. Though the Taliban claims it has no interest in restoring its 1990s apparatus (under which women were banned from school and forced to endure physical abuse if they left home without wearing a burqa), the group has issued multiple decrees regarding how far women can travel without a male escort, what they are allowed to wear in public, and what jobs they are permitted to hold.
According to the Taliban, the ideal woman never leaves the house unless there is an emergency.
“Afghan women and girls have faced some of the harshest consequences of Taliban rules, and they have led the difficult fight to protect rights in Afghanistan,” says Human Rights Watch executive Heather Barr. “Unfortunately, their pleas to the international community to stand by them have not been answered.”
Last week, the Afghan Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – headquartered in a building that once belonged to the Women’s Affairs Ministry – issued rules banning women from amusement parks, gyms, and public bath houses. All secondary education (high school) for women has been postponed until “a comprehensive plan has been prepared according to Sharia and Afghan culture.”
Women who were lucky enough to have completed 12th grade before the US pullout were allowed to take college entrance exams, but were barred from pursuing law, engineering, economics, veterinary medicine, and journalism.
The situation is particularly frustrating for women who dealt with Sharia law at a young age and were hopeful that their children would be free from it.
“Before August , I had a normal life. I would work in an office together with my other colleagues including men,” says Khatol, a former Afghan government employee. “My children were going to school, and I had dreams of a bright future for them – that one day my children will become doctors, teachers, engineers.”
Thanks to the takeover and slow reimposition of Sharia law, however, the dreams Khatol and countless others had for their children are in jeopardy.
“My daughters are at home because schools are closed for them,” continues Khatol. “My dreams for their future are all shattered. My life becomes bitter when I see my daughters with a disappointed look on their face.”
Things didn’t have to be this way, explains my colleague Joe Gilbertson (click here to read more). Whereas former President Donald Trump planned to pull out of Afghanistan with a plan in place to assist the local government and protect women from the brutality of the Taliban, President Joe Biden simply gave up and withdrew without so much as asking for concessions.
With nothing to lose and everything to gain, the Afghan army surrendered to the Taliban and allowed them to take control. Things can only get worse from here.