Interview: Life Under Taliban Rule for Afghan Women

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Interview: Life Under Taliban Rule for Afghan Women

A woman’s right advocate based in Afghanistan voices an urgent plea: “Be our voice to recognize the gender apartheid in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime.”

Interview: Life Under Taliban Rule for Afghan Women

A Taliban fighter stands guard as women wait to receive food rations distributed by a humanitarian aid group in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 23, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/ Ebrahim Noroozi, File

On August 15, 2021, the Taliban stormed into Kabul, ousting the U.S.-backed government. Two years later, under the Taliban’s self-styled Islamic Emirate, the group has reinstituted many of the harsh policies that made Afghanistan a global pariah during their first stint in power in the 1990s. In particular, the Taliban have sharply curtailed the rights of women and girls, restricting them from schooling, employment, and leisure activities. It is difficult for women to even leave their homes, much less pursue and education or career. 

Afghan women and girls have not simply accepted this attack on their basic human rights. Despite the risks to their personal safety, they have protested and organized underground schools to keep girls’ education alive.

Maryam (a pseudonym) is a woman’s right advocate based in Afghanistan. In an interview with The Diplomat, she discusses the reality of life under Taliban rule, how Afghan women are resisting, and what the world should do to help.

“In my opinion, Afghan women are the bravest warriors in the history of mankind,” Maryam told The Diplomat. 

The Taliban have banned women from traveling, working at most jobs, and going to restaurants, gyms, parks, and beauty salons. What options (if any) do women still have for work or leisure outside their homes?

Since successive orders of the Taliban have removed women from public spaces, only female doctors and midwives have the right to work outside the home in big cities. However, even though female doctors are allowed to work outside the home, they face severe restrictions, because they must be present at work wearing a full hijab. They do not have the right to talk with male colleagues while working.  In addition, they do not have the right to treat male patients.  

Because of the fear, very few women are seen in public spaces. If there is a woman anywhere, she is accompanied by a man. But this is different in small towns. One can rarely see women on the roads.

How are girls and women fighting back against the Taliban’s restrictions, particularly when it comes to education?  

In my opinion, Afghan women are the bravest warriors in the history of mankind. As soon as the Taliban came to power, the first step was to ban the education of sixth grade girls, and later they dissolved the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which is one of the most important ministries in government. They turned it into the Ministry of Vice and Virtue.

This was a huge disappointment for women because it showed that women have no place in the Taliban government. But they did not give up. When the Taliban closed the school gates to the school students, Afghan women came to the roads of the cities and raised their voice of protest. They took the responsibility of all sections of the society and stood alone against the Taliban and their weapons. And they asked the Taliban to open schools for their girls.

But this is not their only struggle. In order to show that the restrictions imposed by the Taliban group on Afghan women are against their beliefs, they opened secret schools in their homes at the risk of their lives and their families. Later, when the Taliban also banned older female students from studying, Afghan women opened online classes for female students to continue their education. But a larger percentage of women do not have access to smartphones and the internet, so this is one of the biggest challenges facing Afghan women, which makes them to continue to protest.

The Taliban’s decision to ban older girls and women from education has received the most global attention, but they have also remade the curriculum for boys to emphasize their own regressive ideology. Is it possible for anyone – girl or boy – to receive a true education in Afghanistan? 

In fact the Taliban never changed. They are implementing all of the rules that they did in 1996-2001. Most people who had the opportunity to study in that period just remember horrendous memories from their education. because it wasn’t education;  it was training more Taliban fighters. Twenty years later when they again came to power they changed the curriculum under which students were students for last two decades. 

Then the Taliban closed the door of schools and universities for women and girls. One of their reasons is that they don’t have the budget for expenses; however they are building more religious madrassas across the country. 

According to their beliefs and religion, the students who graduate from these kind of religious schools operated by the Taliban are not scholars but suicide bombers, killers, and dangerous criminals. They never will learn to read and write correctly. They will be deprived of socialized and civilized etiquette. In the short term, they will hurt themselves and in the longer term, they ruin the future of Afghanistan, instead of building it.

Between 2001 and 2021, Afghanistan had 20 years of a more progressive government. What did those decades do for gender dynamics in Afghanistan, and what does this sudden reversal mean? Can the Taliban successfully wind back the clock? 

Desperately the answer is yes. In a world where we study and work to go forward and develop, the Taliban successfully were able to send the country backward to their last period of rule. 

In the last 20 years Afghan and international organizations had worked hard for human rights and women’s rights in the extremist and conservative society of Afghanistan. 

In 2021, Afghan women accounted for 29.39 percent of the country’s 400,000 civil servants. This percentage was close to the average representation of women (43 percent) in the public sector in South and Southeast Asian countries, and three times higher than the same figure in Pakistan. Before the collapse of the Afghan Republic, female MPs occupied 27 percent of the seats in parliament. Women’s leadership in the public sector, including the military, stood at 10 percent. Historically, most of the restrictions against women in Afghanistan were never universally accepted or considered Islamic. 

There is a lot of debate about what the international community can do to address human rights abuses in Afghanistan. But let’s focus on the individual level: What can concerned individuals living abroad do to help Afghans? What message would you like to send to the world on behalf of women in Afghanistan?

After two years of Taliban rules, it seems like international human’s rights organizations and women’s rights organizations show less interest in the fate of women and girls in Afghanistan. I want to ask any individuals or organizations who claim that they are human rights or women’s right defenders to stand with us.

While the Taliban and their supporters are trying to normalize the gender apartheid that women and girls are experiencing in Afghanistan, we need your support and solidarity with us.  The surge in suicide among women across the country shows how difficult life has become for women in Afghanistan.

Please do not ignore us Afghan women. Be our voice to recognize the gender apartheid in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Hold the Taliban accountable for their crimes against women and girls and humanity in Afghanistan.