Afghan women’s new fight for rights

The US withdrawal had an impact on all in Afghanistan, not least a generation of women and girls whose freedoms have been shrunk by the Taliban

Afghan women’s new fight for rights

The withdrawal of United States soldiers from Afghanistan in August 2021 led not only to a Taliban takeover but to chaos in the country, with women among the worst affected by the change.

In a new report drawing on secret documents from the US State and Defence Departments, the Biden Administration blames former President Donald Trump and his administration for this chaos. Angered at the accusations, Republicans have asked to see all the paperwork, seeking to draw their own conclusions.

All the while, the United Nations and Western countries condemn the Taliban’s decision to prevent Afghan women from working in international organisations.

Last week, it barred women from working at the UN. Sadly, this continues a trend.

The Taliban had already banned Afghan girls from attending secondary school or university.

According to the Taliban’s Minister of Higher Education, Sheikh Nada Muhammad Nadim this is on the basis of non-compliance with Islamic dress codes and the absence of a male mahram (male family member to accompany the woman).

That is not all. After the US left, Afghan women were banned from exercising, going to gyms and public parks, travelling without a mahram, and wearing the hijab or burqa outside their homes.

Impact on female medical access

Among the more acute problems caused by the Taliban’s ban on women in university last December is the lack of trained female medical staff.

This is becoming a crisis. Without access to higher education, the number of female graduates in specialised fields has dwindled and is continuing to decline. Afghan women now worry about a shortage of female doctors to treat them, exacerbating the country’s current humanitarian crisis.

The Taliban’s consistent gender-based discrimination is always met with swift condemnation from the UN and the West, who seem surprised every time an extremist organisation aligned with Al Qaeda denies women rights or freedoms.

After the Taliban’s return to power, two decades after the fall of its first spell in power, the group claimed to have changed its ways, sending messages of reassurance, particularly regarding women’s rights.

A member of the Taliban Cultural Committee, Inamullah Samangani, even said that women should join the new government, or ‘The Islamic Emirate’, which is the Taliban’s term for their rule in Afghanistan.

Leopards don’t change their spots

However, while these untruths may have shocked some, the Taliban’s lies came as a no surprise to the Afghan people, least of all to Afghan women.

The world watched as thousands of Afghans tried to flee as the Taliban regained control, with 640 people crammed onboard a US military cargo plane - the highest number of passengers ever transported on this aircraft type. Some even tried clinging to the wheels of departing planes.

It may have shocked people, but Afghanis knew this Taliban was the same as the last one. That's why a record 640 people crammed onboard that US cargo plane

Those who could not leave themselves handed their children to departing American soldiers because they knew that today's Taliban was the same as the Taliban from 1996-2001. It seems that the UN and the West were alone in not realising this.

While reports are welcome, no report will save Afghani women. While Trump's administration is blamed, so too are the failed intelligence and military assessments that did not anticipate the Taliban's rapid takeover.

For Afghan women, the problem today is no longer about who to blame. Nor is there time or willingness to lament the last 20 years, when women were supported, educated, and largely free to achieve the many successes that they achieved.

The focus now is on what happens next. Is it solely up to Afghan women to fight and resist the Taliban's wholesale retraction of rights and freedoms? Shouldn't men also protest? Aren't women half of society - mothers, sisters, daughters?

It is unlikely that the world will fight the Taliban again to restore women's rights, yet it is illogical for men to think this battle does not concern them. This is not just Afghan women's fight but a fight for every Afghani.

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