• B. Hennessy

What the Taliban taking control of the Afghan Government means for women

A watershed moment for the #MeToo movement.

Following the withdrawal of U.S military troops, over the past week, Taliban fighters have made sweeping advances across Afghanistan, capturing a string of key provincial capitals. Last night, on August 15th 2021, the Afghan president Ghani relinquished power, and an interim government led by the Taliban was formed.

This development, has massive geopolitical ramifications, politically, socially, economically and culturally. However, perhaps no group is greater impacted by this then women. The return to Taliban rule, which was previously toppled in 2001, signals a return to its austere and harsh interpretation of Islam, which implements severe restrictions on women’s rights, including the right to work, to education and to freedom of expression.

AP Photo/Rahmat Gul via The Conversation

Speaking of the U.S military’s withdrawal, Fawizia Koofi a women’s rights activist, former lawmaker and member of the Afghan delegation that was attempting to negotiate peace with the Taliban prior to this withdrawal, said the women in her country felt ‘betrayed’. And there is no question as to why. The previous Taliban regime created a society largely unimaginable to women in the Western world, and the reinstatement of this regime foreshadows a return to darkness for women.

Under the previous Taliban administration, the International community was gravely concerned about the ingrained misogyny and violence committed against women. Women were forced to wear a burqa at all times in public as “the face of a woman is a source of corruption” for men not related to them. Women were not allowed to work, or be educated beyond the age of eight, until then they were only permitted to study the Qur’an. This was all done in the vain of creating a state which was a “secure environment where the chastity and dignity of women may once again be sacrosanct”.

Brave women who did seek or provide an education did so underground risking torture or execution if caught.

This is just a brief glimpse into the life of women under Taliban rule. Other laws we are privileged to not be able to comprehend being enforced in Australia include; women were unable to speak loudly in public as no stranger should hear a woman’s voice. Women were forbidden to appear on the balconies of their apartments or houses. Women were barred from appearing on radio or television. Women were largely barred from appearing in public without a male escort. Under this ruling, a woman, following being badly beaten by the Taliban for walking the streets alone, begged the question “my father was killed in battle … I have no husband, no brother, no son. How am I to live if I can’t go out alone?”

In October 1996, a woman had the tip of her thumb cut off for wearing nail varnish.

In December 1996, 225 Kabul women were seized and lashed on their legs and backs for violating the sharia code of dress.

In 2010, a 22 year old woman was shot and killed for not quitting her job.

In 2021 this regime will recommence its reign of terror on women.

An Amnesty International report during this time also found that 80% of Afghan marriages were forced, as in many instances, the marriage of girls under the age of 16 (the age of consent in Australia) was encouraged.

In London, in 2006 a conference on Afghanistan lead to an international Compact with benchmarks on the treatments of women, but in 2008 Amnesty international noted the improved treatment of women in Afghanistan was an unfulfilled goal.

However, since then women have achieved increasing progression, including education and self-determination. At a University in the city of Hert as of 2020 60% of students were women.

Today, in accordance with the United Nations, 250,000 Afghans have fled their homes since the end of May, eighty percent of those displaced have been women and children, fearful the Taliban would reimpose their strict interpretation of Islam law, effectively eliminating women’s rights.

As the Taliban reclaim power, they have said they will write laws to ensure women will be able to participate in public life –the events of the past weeks indicate the opposite.

Several days ago the Taliban seized the city of Heret. As women attempted to enter their offices and universities in the wake of this they were turned away. Schools have subsequently been shut down.

On this ongoing threat, Fawizia Koofi said "Women in Afghanistan are the most at danger or most at-risk population of the country," she said, adding that the “criminals” the Taliban had freed from prisons to swell their ranks now also posed a threat, along with "those who [have been] upset with women becoming powerful in the last 20 years."

Revealing the global stakes of this crisis, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said through U.N spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Sunday, he “is particularly concerned about the future of women and girls, whose hard-won rights must be protected."

The #MeToo movement is a global movement of women standing in solidarity with all others in the experience of discrimination and abuse on the basis of gender. It is imperative we ensure our outrage and support does not simply extend to other women in the western world but to all women suffering inequality and systematic abuse worldwide. The Taliban taking control of the Afgan government marks a significant blow to the battle for gender equality, and it is not a blow we should or can afford to endure silently. Women’s lives are on the line and it is our responsibility, as women in countries where we are afforded a voice, to speak up.