Afghanistan: The Taliban pledged to respect women’s rights. Here’s how it eroded them



CNN

When the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021 in a sweeping takeover following the withdrawal of US troops, the radical Islamist group appeared poised to distance itself from its previous period of rule in nineties, presenting himself as more moderate and committed to the internal peace process.

Among their new commitments, the Taliban pledged to respect women’s rights within the rules of “Islamic law”.

The group’s spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said at the time that women would be able to continue their studies to university, a break with the strict restrictions of the Taliban regime that ruled from 1996 to 2001.

Promises of a softer approach were met with skepticism, both at home and abroad. More than a million Afghans have fled since the Taliban took power.

Sixteen months later, the Taliban appear to have broken their word. Women and girls face a blanket ban on education after a series of decrees steadily eroded their rights in almost every aspect of life and reversed the gains they had fought tirelessly for over the past two decades.

Within days of regaining power, the Taliban re-established the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice as a public morality watchdog tasked with enforcing the Taliban’s version of Islamic law. Since then, the ministry has been instrumental in the systematic suppression of women’s rights in the country.

Here are some of the ways women’s rights have been eroded:

The Taliban announced on 12 September 2021 that women could attend universities with gender-segregated classrooms while wearing the mandatory hijab. But in March 2022, the government banned girls from attending secondary school. Secondary schools for girls were to resume on March 23, 2021, following months-long closures imposed after the Taliban took over. The group ordered them to close just hours after they were due to reopen. The move devastated many students and their families, who described to CNN their shattered dreams of becoming doctors, teachers or engineers.

In the latest step in its crackdown on women’s education, the Taliban suspended university education for all female students on Tuesday. A letter released by the education ministry said the decision was taken at a cabinet meeting and the order would come into effect immediately.

A female student walks in front of a university in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on December 21.  The Taliban have banned university education for women across the country, drawing condemnation from the United States and the United Nations.

Women’s access to public spaces has been significantly reduced under the Taliban.

On November 10, women were banned from entering all parks in Kabul. Previously, women had been able to visit parks three days a week and men the remaining four. The new rules mean that women can no longer do this, even if they are accompanied by male relatives.

The same day, a Taliban official in Kabul announced that women would not be allowed to use gyms across the country. A spokesman for the virtue ministry said the ban was being introduced because people were ignoring segregation orders and women were not wearing the hijab.

Women in Afghanistan can no longer work in most sectors. The Taliban ordered working women to stay at home after taking power in August 2021, saying they were unsafe in the presence of the group’s soldiers.

Women’s right to travel within Afghanistan and abroad has also been restricted.

Late last year, it was announced that women would require a male escort to travel long distances within the country. Any woman traveling more than 75 kilometers (46 mi) had to be accompanied by a male companion. Mohammad Sadiq Hakif Mahajer, a spokesman for the ministry of virtue, told CNN at the time that the new law was intended to prevent women from suffering any harm or “disturbance.”

The new rules also asked drivers not to allow women not wearing the hijab into their cars.

And in March, Afghanistan’s airlines were ordered to prevent women from boarding flights unless accompanied by a male companion, Reuters reported.

This summer, Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada ordered women to cover themselves completely, including their faces, in public. The decree suggested that women should stay at home whenever possible, as this was the “best option to observe the sharia hijab”.

Before the order, the hijab was only compulsory for women studying in university and girls studying in secondary school. This was ordered immediately after the Taliban’s return to power, when the new government said female students, teachers and working women must wear hijabs in accordance with the group’s interpretation of sharia law.

Taliban authorities have also ordered female television journalists to cover their faces while reporting.

A member of the Taliban replaces a sign from the Department of Women's Affairs with one from the Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice at a government building in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in October 2021.

Since returning to power, the Taliban have abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, a key body for promoting women’s rights through the law. In its place, the new regime set up the infamous Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which has become instrumental in curtailing women’s rights.

It has also revoked the Violence Against Women Act, signed in 2009 to protect women from abuse, including forced marriage, leaving them without recourse to justice, according to the UN.

Over the past year, the Taliban’s restrictions on women have raised international concern and are likely to further isolate the country on the world stage.

Commenting after the decision to ban women from the university, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the move would “further alienate the Taliban from the international community and deny them the legitimacy they crave.” .

U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood, the deputy representative for special political affairs, echoed that sentiment, telling a U.N. Security Council briefing that the Taliban cannot hope to be a member legitimate international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans, especially human rights. fundamental rights and freedoms of women and girls”.

The new restrictive measures could cause further unrest in the country. Following the ban on university education, women took to the streets of Kabul on Thursday to protest the decision. The Taliban arrested five women participating in the protest, according to the BBC.

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