Even before the fall of Kabul on Sunday, the situation was deteriorating rapidly, exacerbated by the planned withdrawal of all foreign military personnel and the decline in international aid.
In the past few weeks alone, numerous cases of casualties and violence have been reported. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes. The United Nations Refugee Agency says about 80% of those who have fled since the end of May are women and children.
What does the return of the Taliban mean for women and girls?
The history of the Taliban
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996, applying harsh conditions and rules following their strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Under their rule, women were to cover themselves and leave the house only in the company of a male relative. The Taliban also banned girls from going to school and women from working outside the home. They were also banned from voting.
Women were subjected to cruel punishment for disobeying these rules, including being beaten and flogged, and stoned to death if found guilty of adultery. Afghanistan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.
The last 20 years
With the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the situation of women and girls improved considerably, although these gains were partial and fragile.
Women now hold positions as ambassadors, ministers, governors and members of the police and security forces. In 2003, the new government ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which obliges states to incorporate gender equality into their national legislation.
The Afghan Constitution of 2004 provides that “Afghan citizens, men and women, have equal rights and duties before the law”. Meanwhile, a 2009 law was introduced to protect women from forced and underage marriages, and violence.
According to Human Rights Watch, the law has seen an increase in the reporting, investigation and, to a lesser extent, convictions, of violent crimes against women and girls.
As the country has grown from almost no girls in school to tens of thousands in college, progress has been slow and unstable. According to UNICEF, the 3.7 million Afghan children out of school, 60% of whom are girls.
A return to the dark days
Officially, Taliban leaders have said they want to grant women’s rights “according to Islam.” But this has been met with great skepticism, including by women leaders in Afghanistan. Indeed, the Taliban have given all indications that they will re-impose their repressive regime.
In July, the United Nations reported that the number of women and girls killed and injured in the first six months of the year had nearly doubled from the same period the year before.
In areas once again under Taliban control, girls have been banned from school and their freedom of movement restricted. Forced marriages have also been reported.
The women put on the burqas and talk about destroying evidence of their education and life outside the home to protect themselves from the Taliban.
As an anonymous Afghan woman writes in The Guardian:
I didn’t expect that we would be deprived of all our basic rights again and travel back 20 years ago. That after 20 years of fighting for our rights and freedom, we should cast out the burqa and hide our identity.
Many Afghans are angered by the return of the Taliban and what they see as their abandonment by the international community. There were demonstrations in the streets. The women even took up arms in a rare display of defiance.
But that alone will not be enough to protect women and girls.
The world is looking the other way
Currently, the United States and its allies are engaged in frantic rescue operations to get their citizens and personnel out of Afghanistan. But what about Afghan citizens and their future?
US President Joe Biden remains largely unresponsive to the advance of the Taliban and the worsening humanitarian crisis. In a statement on August 14, he said:
an endless American presence in the midst of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.
And yet the United States and its allies, including Australia, went to Afghanistan 20 years ago in an attempt to eliminate the Taliban and protect women’s rights. However, most Afghans do not believe they have experienced peace in their lifetime.
As the Taliban reassert their full control over the country, the achievements of the past 20 years, especially those aimed at protecting women’s rights and equality, are at risk if the international community abandons Afghanistan again.
Women and girls are asking for help as the Taliban advance. We hope the world will listen.
Azadah Raz Mohammad, doctoral student, The University of Melbourne and Jenna Sapiano, Postdoctoral Research Associate at Australia Research Council and Lecturer, Monash Gender Peace & Security Center, Monash University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service