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We Must Not Forget About Afghan Women

April 26, 2022

In honor of International Girls in ICT Day yesterday, April 25th, The Advocates for Human Rights is calling attention to the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan, where their basic rights - including the right to education and the right to employment - are under threat. 

"All I do now is remain at home and do nothing, like a caged bird."  

These are the words of one Afghan woman describing her life after the Taliban's takeover Kabul in 2021. Her situation is similar to many women in Afghanistan since August. 

After 20 years of progress toward improved human rights in Afghanistan, the Taliban took over in August of 2021. At that time, the Taliban vowed it would place fewer restrictions on women. Human rights experts and women alike were skeptical of this promise from the very beginning; now in 2022, the Taliban has placed restrictions on women just as it did in the late 1990s. 

Last month, the Taliban's position on women and girls' place in society became very clear. March 23rd had been set as the day they would allow girls to return to school. Just hours before, however, the Taliban retracted their decision and announced that girls would not be allowed to attend school past sixth gradeAuthorities announced that schools would be closed until they could be brought in line with sharia law, including girls' uniforms. Many women and girls in Kabul had already flocked into classrooms Wednesday morning, only to be sent home again after a few hours. Some schools in northern areas, however, continued operations. Later that same week, the Taliban announced that women would not be allowed to travel on airplanes without mahram, or a male chaperone. Since August, the Taliban has also announced that women are also required to have mahram when seeking out healthcare or taking a taxi. This requirement poses a serious risk to Afghan women's health, not to mention their autonomy in making decisions about their bodies. The Taliban also established separate days for women and men at parks; women are allowed to go to parks on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, while parks are reserved for men the remaining days of the week.  

These most recent restrictions come after months of crackdown on women's freedoms. One woman who had worked as a police officer prior to the takeover expressed fear about going back to work, even if she is allowed to do so. The Taliban searched her home and reportedly assassinated woman police officers, including one pregnant police officer in the province of Ghor. Another woman working as an artist described how the Taliban's restrictions have interrupted her creative process. She is no longer able to run a small art gallery she opened in early 2021, which she said, "was enough to keep me going for the rest of the day." Now, as the Taliban crackdown on women professionals, there is little to keep her motivated. 

Amidst these disturbing and often dangerous conditions, Afghan women are still taking to the streets to demand their rights. Following the Taliban's reversal on their decision to reopen schools, small groups of women staged protests to demand the reopening of schools. The conditions for women human rights defenders protesting the Taliban are grim, however. Talibs have pointed guns at protestors, sprayed pepper spray and other chemicals at them, and beat themAuthorities have also threatened women known to be involved in protests, putting some in detention incommunicado and disappearing others. This backlash has driven many human rights defenders to work in secret, using encrypted messaging and safe houses, or to stop protesting entirely. 

As the world turns its attention toward the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, it is imperative we focus on all global issues affecting women and do not forget about the women of Afghanistan. These infringements on women's rights come alongside a mounting economic crisis in Afghanistan. The Taliban's recent restrictions on women's rights also put Afghanistan even further out of reach of international aid. This is a dire ongoing situation that the international community must address with urgency. The Advocates urges the Taliban to respect the full and fundamental human rights of women and girls, including the right to education, right to freedom of movement, and right to freedom of expression and opinion. The Advocates also calls for impartial and independent investigations into Taliban members who harass and threaten women who stand up for their rights.

 By Elizabeth Lacy, Program Associate at The Advocates for Human Rights