The Struggle for Women’s Rights in Afghanistan under Taliban Rule

Anushka Narayan
4th October 2021

Picture Courtesy: Reuters

With it being over a month since the Taliban have seized control of Afghanistan; there remains a shroud of uncertainty over the fate of the people of the nation. With the new interim government set up, the Taliban promises that it has forgiven all those who fought against them, it assures the Afghans, many of who are desperately fleeing the country that their regime is different from what it once was 20 years ago. Among the several thousand that are scrambling to flee the country, it is the safety of women and minorities, whose future looks especially uncertain.

The group’s spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the group is committed to the rights of women and assured that they will be allowed to work and study. However, he also stressed that their rights would be determined specifically by the Sharia law, more specifically the group’s interpretation of this law. This is specifically where the international distrust arises as the leaders of the international community question whether it is enough to take Taliban by their present promises or the history of violence in their previous regime in the 90s. In order to understand the degree of this deep-rooted mistrust, it is important to be informed about the Taliban’s first rise to power in 1996.

When the Taliban started to rise to power in the early 1990s, the people worn out by the history of violence and the ineffectiveness of their government, welcomed the Taliban with somewhat open arms, believing the group’s promises to bring glory back to their land. But what followed was a reign of brutality and violence. Women and girls suffered the most under this rule and had little to no rights. During the first rule, the group quickly imposed several restrictions on the behavior, dress and morals of women. Officers known as morality officers were seen patrolling the streets mercilessly humiliating and punishing women who did not adhere to this strict code of conduct. Under this Sharia Law, women were not allowed to attend regular schools and universities, forced to wear burqas, not allowed to sit on balconies of their own homes and were barred from interacting with boys over 12 and men who were not their family. The women were affectively put under house arrest, and all their freedom was taken away. If there was even a slight breach of these rules, the Taliban subjected the women to various forms of punishment including public humiliation, flogging and stoning to their deaths. It was reported by Amnesty International in 1996 that a woman in Kabul had her thumb cut off for wearing nail polish.

In the present situation with the Taliban once again coming to power, similar rules have already started being implemented. Women once again are being forced back into their homes, only being allowed out with a male escort, are being forced to don burqas and are slowly being removed from public spaces such as schools, universities and offices. The streets of Kabul have become increasingly devoid of women. Similar incidents that had occurred in 1996 are slowly occurring again. A group of women who protested against the oppressive regime, were seen being followed by Taliban fighters and being whipped. Journalists at the spot who were reporting the event were also whipped with wires and many got their equipment taken away. Videos of the Taliban fighters patrolling the streets as the sounds of gunfire and screams of terror filled the air have also emerged.

Many previously vocal female journalists, activists and politicians have declined to give further comment, even anonymously as the fear for repression is heavily building. They stay holed up in undisclosed locations across the country hiding away from the Taliban, until they can escape and find refuge in neighboring countries. With hordes of women, fleeing the country, forced to leave their family and country behind, it is apparent that many remain distrustful.

These incidents are a few among the millions of Afghan women who lay in wait questioning about the nature of their future. Additionally, the Taliban have announced a newly formed interim government formed exclusively of men, forcing the women of Afghan to take the Taliban by its actions and not its words. Across the various reports that have emerged from the women of Afghanistan, they all indicated a similar sentiment of being abandoned by their nation and by the world. Videos of young working women such as journalists and activists pleading for their lives have been making rounds on various forms of social media. Though the situation is still yet to fully unfold in Afghanistan, based on the history of the Taliban, the future of the country’s women is left hanging in the air.


*The Author is a Research Intern at the Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies


The Views expressed in the Article are of the Author