Freedom for Afghan Women

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 27 2021

Fears are mounting in Afghanistan as the Taliban tightens its grip on women’s rights, cutting access to work and denying girls the right to secondary school education. Last week, the Taliban excluded girls from secondary schools with only boys and male teachers allowed back in. After pledging a softer version of their brutal and repressive regime of the 1990s, the Taliban have been stripping away at freedoms one month after seizing power. 

During the US messy pull-out in August, the Taliban appeared more lenient, projecting themselves to be a more stabilising power than the ham-fisted allied juggernaut and the weak democratic Kabul Government. The Deobandi Islamist group, for a few days, became a darling in the eyes of the liberal Media. However, the Taliban honeymoon didn’t last long. 

Reports of medieval-esque torture and repression resurfaced and the international community started to fear the worst for Afghanistan’s women once again. Despite their marginalisation in a conservative society, Afghan women have fought for and gained basic rights in the past 20 years, becoming lawmakers, judges, pilots and Police officers, though mostly limited to large cities. Many entered the workforce – a necessity in some cases as most women were widowed or now support invalid husbands as a result of two decades of conflict.

 However, since returning to power, the militant group has shown no clear signs of protecting the rights of women. Taliban officials say women have been told to stay at home for their own security but will be allowed to work once proper segregation can be implemented. Earlier this month the Taliban have been accused of killing a Policewoman in a provincial town, which the group denies along with a host of atrocities such as revenge killings, detentions and persecution of religious minorities that have been documented by human rights groups. 

Last month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said she had received credible reports of serious violations committed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, including summary executions of civilians and restrictions on women and urged the Geneva forum to set up a mechanism to closely monitor Taliban actions. 

Recently, the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan criticised the Taliban preventing women from accessing education in neighbouring Afghanistan as un-Islamic. In a BBC interview, Khan laid out the conditions that would need to be met for Pakistan to formally recognise the new Taliban Government. He called for the leadership to be inclusive and respect human rights. 

This ultimatum from Pakistan is heartening given that Taliban-led-Afghanistan’s dependence on Islamabad for formal recognition will come at a price; one that we can hope will guarantee freedom for Afghan women. But opposition against the theocratic Government wasn’t limited to those outside Afghanistan as the world saw sizeable protests by Afghan women in the streets of Kabul as soon as the Taliban came to power. 

The Taliban urged to address world leaders at the UN General Assembly (UNGA). The request to participate in the high-level debate is being considered by a credentials committee. The committee will rule on the request but it is unlikely to happen during the current session of the body. 

Meanwhile, Afghan rapper and activist, Sonita Alizadeh, who fled her homeland with her family when the Taliban were last in power 20 years ago, urged world leaders last Tuesday (21), to stand up for the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. “Do not be fooled by the masks the Taliban show on the news,” Alizadeh told a virtual event on the sidelines of UNGA urging the international community not to recognise the Taliban. 

However, in contrast to isolating the new regime UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last month that the Taliban’s desire for international recognition is the only global leverage to press for inclusive Government and respect for rights, particularly for women, in Afghanistan. Given the circumstances the international community must ensure the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan by pressuring the Taliban regime. 

Compromise at this point will be huge let down and will only empower tyrannical regimes to continue repressive internal policies while showing off an image of inclusiveness and equality to the rest of the world.

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 27 2021

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