A catch-22? Women’s rights and recognition of the Taliban

The Taliban systematically remove women and girls from social life in Afghanistan by denying their basic human rights. This makes their ability to work, learn and live a meaningful life increasingly difficult.

It comes after the Taliban took control of the country quickly last year, culminating in the capture of Kabul in August. The international consensus was that women and girls would be oppressed, similar to their previous rule between 1996 and 2001, which was then considered the most anti-women political movement in the world. Unfortunately, these fears quickly materialized, with human rights violations perpetrated by the Taliban against women and girls and their rights to work, learn and participate in society being systematically suppressed.

Education was quickly restricted for women and girls in Afghanistan, denying their basic right to secondary and higher education. This can be seen with the Taliban’s recent announcement to keep secondary schools closed to girls after initially claiming they would welcome female students after months of a ban. Education is particularly limited in rural areas, with women and girls completely barred from attending school. Even in the rare cases where separate classes in secondary schools and universities have been allowed, the lack of female teachers and the enforcement of strict dress codes have caused many schools to close or not offer classes.

Most women were also prevented from returning to work, which reduced their career prospects and exacerbated the already extreme levels of poverty within the communities. Female teachers have been largely dismissed from their duties and aid workers have been prevented from doing their work, or banned altogether. Women in the Afghan civil service, traditionally a major employer of women, have either been barred from returning to the workplace or have not returned for fear of reprisals. This has left many women without income and increasingly vulnerable to extreme poverty.

Women and girls are also more widely excluded from Afghan society, leading to increased exclusion, discrimination and exploitation. Institutions designed to help and protect women, including the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Independent Human Rights Commission, have been closed, preventing women from accessing life-saving assistance.

In a tragic irony, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has since been transformed into the Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which enforces rules of citizen behavior, including women’s dress codes and freedom of movement. . The Taliban has also restricted women’s right to peaceful assembly and persecuted prominent women, including lawyers and human rights activists.

The suppression of access to employment and education has had an additional impact on women and girls, who are in turn disproportionately affected by an ever-worsening humanitarian crisis. The suspension of foreign aid and freezing of Afghan government assets has caused food insecurity, malnutrition and hunger among an estimated 20 million Afghans out of an estimated population of 40 million. Women are one of the most vulnerable groups, with a lack of income and education, or even the ability to leave home, making them dependent on their families for food, water and household items. sanitation. Women are increasingly at risk of exploitation, with reports of children being sold by their families, including girls, to avoid starvation.

Although the actions of the Taliban are unacceptable, it must be said that the international community has played an important role in the emergence of this crisis. The imposition of sanctions and the freezing of funds have largely caused the humanitarian crisis that we see unfolding. While sanctioning the Taliban is understandable, due to their stance on women’s rights, it can be seen as collective punishment against the country’s most vulnerable, including women and girls. This is an immoral position in which the international community finds itself and it must help those who remain.

The tragedy is that women and girls in Afghanistan have witnessed a huge increase in their rights over the past twenty years. Women were actively encouraged to enter public service and were widely employed as journalists, health and humanitarian workers, and teachers. Substantial funds have been provided to send women and girls, including those with disabilities, to school and university and to improve infrastructure to enable this in conservative rural areas. The former government also enacted legislative guarantees for women that protected them from violence, exploitation and respected their human rights. Women now face an increasingly bleak future where career and education prospects are non-existent and their ability to lead meaningful lives is curtailed by the Taliban.

How can this be resolved? Above all, the international community must pressure the Taliban to allow an increased presence of human rights agencies tasked with monitoring the treatment of women and girls and documenting and prosecuting any abuses. This will allow for increased transparency on the ground, which will increase pressure on the Taliban to respect their human rights.

Humanitarian aid organizations must be adequately funded and allowed into the country, including in conservative rural areas, to provide lifesaving support to vulnerable women and children facing extreme poverty and insecurity. eating. This will go a long way to preventing exploitation and abuse against women and girls and will improve conditions across the country.

As the Taliban desperately seek frozen funds from Afghanistan, it is essential that the international community ties any release of funds to human rights obligations, in particular employment and education opportunities and the ability to participate. safely to society. The Taliban are desperate for international recognition, which will increase their incentive to uphold human rights legislation that will protect the rights of women and girls.

Admittedly, this presents a dilemma for the international community. It is currently the policy of the United States and most other countries to refuse to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government, particularly because of their position on women’s rights. The alternative is to continue to ensure that all funds are channeled through the United Nations and humanitarian aid organizations to help resolve the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

However, the Taliban increasingly controls the lives of women and girls by systematically crafting and enforcing abhorrent policies on the ground. This means that any significant change in their lives can only take place if the Taliban changes its position on women’s rights. Although recognition is unrealistic and unreasonable for many, it cannot be ruled out as an option. Humanitarian aid and outside pressure cannot do much. If some form of recognition, linked to human rights, translates into fundamental gains for women and girls in Afghanistan, then it is certainly a positive development.

The issue of recognition and the dire situation in which the country finds itself seem to be putting acute pressure on the Taliban. The recent announcement to allow girls to attend secondary school, and the subsequent decision to reverse that decision, shows that there are tensions between moderates and extremists within the movement. This presents an opportunity for the international community to make the most of this divide by pressuring the regime to respect the rights of women and girls in any negotiations or transactions.

Many brave women are now protesting for their rights in Afghanistan, facing beatings, threats and imprisonment as a result. It shows that women and girls are not willing to give up their human rights to live meaningful lives free from discrimination and abuse. It is time for the international community to exert adequate pressure and support to ensure better outcomes for women and girls in Afghanistan to ensure that they can enjoy these rights. The international community has a moral obligation to do so.

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