AFGHAN WOMEN’S RIGHTS- AN INSIGHT

Reading time : 8 minutes

INTRODUCTION

Women`s rights are human rights – Hilliary Clinton. Women`s rights can be defined as the liberties, freedom and opportunities that women have. These rights include the right to live free from violence, slavery, and discrimination; to be educated; to own property; to vote, and to earn an equal and fair wage. Women all over the world have been denied these basic rights since times immemorial. This article aims to study and understand the plight of Afghani women`s rights since the Taliban took over in 1996.

  • THE TALIBAN REGIME

The word Taliban means “students’’, in the Pashto language. During the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan, they emerged in the early 1990s in Northern Pakistan.

They ruled from 1996- 2001, until the US- Invasion.

Through the Treaty of Rawalpindi in 1919, Afghanistan achieved independence from the British and became a member of the United Nations. Afghanistan, despite being a party to various international treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of  Discrimination against women in 1979 and Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1984, the state of women during under Taliban regime became beyond pathetic. The governance under the Taliban was neither Parliamentary nor Presidential,it was Islamic.

Women`s rights in Afghanistan has often been the subject of various debates and conflicts. Afghan Women’s rights have been oscillating back and forth under various regimes. Before the rise of the Taliban in 1996, women were protected under the law and were afforded basic human rights. As the country was moving towards Democracy,  there was a rise in women contributing in various fields including nation development. In the year 1977, they comprised over 15 % of Afghanistan`s Legislative body. 70 % of the school teachers, 50% of the government workers and 40 % of the doctors were women by the late 1990s. Under the 1964 Constitution, Afghan women officially gained equality, however, these rights were taken away from them in the 1990s through various temporary rulers such as the Taliban during the Civil War. With the rise of the Taliban in 1996, the Afghan women`s world took a full 360-degree turn as all of their basic human rights were robbed away from them.

Under the Taliban regime from 1996 – 2001, women had little to no freedom. In the name of culture and religion, the Taliban justified the violation of women’s rights.[1]The Taliban preached that “women were nothing but a temptation, an unnecessary distraction” and followed strict rules on social relationships. Restrictions on women were imposed in all areas of their life right from their personal affairs to their social, economical and political affairs. The Taliban regime reduced the girls and women to being subjected to illiteracy, poverty and poor health. One of the most serious human rights issues in Afghanistan was violence against women. Throughout their regime in 1996-2001, the Taliban perpetrated violence against women by subjecting them to horrific events such as abduction, sexual abuse, rape and even killing.

The international community

The protests of international organizations had little effect on the Taliban authorities, who prioritized the interpretation of Islamic law and did not feel bound by UN or human rights law, which was regarded as a means of Western imperialism. The UN too, as an organisation found the Taliban extremely difficult to handle.

  • THE US OCCUPATION ( 2001-2020)

In order to dismantle the Al – Qaeda, which had executed the 9/11 attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan and knocked out the Taliban government. The then US President George Bush demanded the Taliban to hand over all the Al- Qaeda leaders who were involved in the attack. On failure to surrender Osama Bin Laden and the other members of the Al- Qaeda, Military operations were commenced on 7th October 2001by the US.

Bonn Agreement

On 5th December 2001, an ambitious 4-year plan was set up for Afghanistan`s political transition. An interim government was set up and it gave women a newfound hope for a better future. The Ministry of Women`s Affairs was established, 3 out of 25 signatories of the agreement were women.

 All the restrictions that were imposed by the Taliban for women were lifted during this period. Women highly contributed to Nation-building through this period. Gender quotas to promote gender equality was all established under the new Constitution. There was tremendous growth in areas of women`s education, employment and healthcare. However, for the rural women of Afghanistan, the situation was not quite the same, there was an unequal distribution of privileges between the rural and urban women. Particularly for the women in the Pashtun area and other minority ethnic groups, there was not much of a progress.

THE RETURN OF THE TALIBAN

On August 15, 2021, the Taliban invaded Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and quickly hijacked the country at a speed that surprised many Afghanistan and Americans alike. The Taliban’s progress came when the United States completed the military withdrawal  agreed in the US Taliban agreement in February 2020. The  withdrawal and evacuation operations of the US military and diplomacy ended on August 30, 2021 with the withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan.

RIGHT TO EDUCATION

The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child emphasized that one of the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to free and compulsory education. Due to its low school enrollment rate and the high proportion of illiterate people, Afghanistan has been long held one of the worst educational records in the world as a result of sustained conflict spanning over 4 decades.

THE PAST

1996-2001- TALIBAN REGIME

The educational situation is worsened during the 1996-2001 Taliban Regime. On the order of the Taliban, around half of the country`s schools were destroyed. During this period there was a strict ban from girls attending school, however, this varied from region to region. Only girls under the age of eight were allowed to attend school, provided that only Quran should be taught.

In the UNICEF report,1998 it is found that around 90% of girls and nearly 75% of boys were out of school. In the year 2001, UNICEF further reported that only about 4-5% of Afghan children attended primary school. Access to secondary and tertiary education was a distant dream.

2001-2020- THE US OCCUPATION

The occupation of the United States marked the beginning of a new era of education in Afghanistan. Article 22 of the constitution of Afghanistan guaranteed the right to education to every Afghan citizen, be it a man or a woman. Significant progress was made in the two decades that followed. In the year 2017, the school enrollment rate increased tenfold from just 1 million to about 9.2 million students. The fact that 39% of them were girls was a remarkable advancement.

The recent return of the Taliban has raised serious concerns about the future of education in Afghanistan, especially for girls.

THE PRESENT AND WHAT THE FUTURE UPHOLDS.

RIGHT TO EDUCATION:

There is an underlying fear among Afghans that education will return to the plains when girls were not allowed to go to school in the first place. This is especially unfortunate since all the massive development that took place during the US occupation will go into complete vain.

The situation as of OCT 16, is that girls are not allowed to access secondary education, while boys are.[2]“The de facto minister of education told us that they are working on a framework,which they will announce soon, that will allow all girls to go to secondary school, and we are expecting that to happen very soon,”UNICEF deputy executive director Omar Adbi said at the UN.The taliban claim to be setting up a secure transportation system before allowing them back into classrooms.

A 14-year-old girl identified as Asma expressed her frustration with her situation and  determination to pursue an education.[3]“Will I be able to go to school or not? This is my biggest concern. I want to learn everything, from the easiest to the hardest subjects. I want to be an astronaut, or an engineer or architect…   This is my dream,” she told Amnesty International.”Education is not a crime,” she added. “If the Taliban announce that getting an education is a crime, then we will commit this crime. We will not give up.”When it comes to education, it seems that Afghan women are more aware and resilient than ever and are willing to fight for it.

RIGHT TO EMPLOYMENT

THE PAST  

1996-2001- TALIBAN REGIME

Women were highly involved in “public life” before the Taliban`s takeover. Almost 70% of the teachers,40 % of the doctors and 50% of the civil corp servants in Afghanistan were women. Since the beginning of the Taliban regime, women had been confined to their households. A temporary ban on employment was imposed. Claims were made that they could get back to work once the standards of gender segregation were met, but this had also never been kept as with many of their other promises.

The employment ban was majorly felt in the educational system. More than two hundred thousand school children and 8000 female university graduates were affected as a result, in Kabul alone.

An exemption was made for the health care professionals, however, they too had to operate in reduced strength. The price they had to pay for physically getting to work was them being subjected to harassment, due to which many even left their jobs.

2001-2020 THE UNITED STATES OCCUPATION

During this period women came back into the public sphere wherein they joined the army, police forces, worked as journalists and television presenters, went on to become judges, prosecutors, translators and surgeons. The constitution of Afghanistan ensured that Afghan women be a part of the political process as well. Article 83 of the Constitution reserved around 27% of the seats ( 68 out of 250 seats ) for women candidates in the Wolesi Jirga(House of the People). Among the one-third members of the Meshrano Jirga ( House of Elders), 16 % had to be women candidates.

THE PRESENT AND WHAT THE FUTURE UPHOLDS.

The new regime has resulted in women being ordered to leave their workplace in some areas and have been excluded from the hardline government altogether. According to the announcement made by Kabul’s acting Mayor Hamdullah Nohmani(As of November 2021) the only job that women could do for the Kabul Government currently, is cleaning female bathrooms, this is extremely unfortunate after 2 whole decades of development in female employment.

RIGHT TO HEALTHCARE

THE PAST  

1996-2001- TALIBAN REGIME

[4]The Taliban has ordered male doctors to deny treatment to women not accompanied by a close male relative. Since women were no longer allowed to work outside the home as doctors, and a significant number of women did not have close male relatives, this posed a tremendous problem. Moreover, many home-visit midwives and widow’s health schemes had also been shut down.

There was only one maternity hospital in the country that put pregnant women in the highly disadvantaged lot, further worsening the problem, male doctors were unable to deliver babies, which further took a toll on the mental and physical health of women and children.

On October 1996, women were denied access to traditional hammams, public baths, because of socialization opportunities that were considered non-Muslim. These bathrooms were an important facility in a country with few people possessing running water, and the testing prompted the United Nations to predict an increase in scabies and vaginal infections among women denied methods of hygiene as well as access to health care.

Ninety-seven per cent of Afghan women surveyed by the Doctor of Human Rights showed signs of major depression. A UNICEF study reported that the majority of children were extremely very traumatized and may die before adulthood.

2001-2020 THE UNITED STATES OCCUPATION

Since 2001, the health care status of Afghanistan has slowly and gradually improved.

Medical services were mostly provided by NGOs contracted through the Ministry of Public Health. In the year 2002, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health developed the Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) as a guide to the health services that the Afghan government would commit to providing to all Afghan citizens. The services identified as having the greatest impact on major health issues were achievable by infrastructure constraints, cost savings, and providing affordable access to health care. equality in urban and rural areas. Areas of focus included maternal and newborn health, child health and immunization, nutrition, infectious diseases, mental health, disability, and pharmaceutical delivery.

THE PRESENT AND WHAT THE FUTURE UPHOLDS.

Afghanistan has been particularly hard hit by the Covid-19  pandemic due to the prevailing social,economic and political conditions as the Taliban have returned back to power.

Hunger has hit 95% of the families, the healthcare system of Afghanistan is on a brink of collapse.[5]“Allowing Afghanistan’s health care delivery system to fall apart would be disastrous,” said Mr. Griffiths. “People across the country would be denied access to primary healthcare such as emergency caesarean sections and trauma care.”

RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF  MOVEMENT AND ASSOCIATION

THE PAST  

1996-2001- TALIBAN REGIME

Under the Taliban regime an extremely problematic policy was introduced, in which the Taliban denied women’s individual liberty by forbidding them from being present in public unless they were accompanied by a male relative. In addition, women were to walk meekly in the streets and refrain from speaking in a pitch too high or laugh out loud. Attending weddings and staying in hotels were all distant dreams. During this period, women were not even allowed to talk to men who were not their own blood. This was seen as an extreme form of discrimination against women especially after years of civil war in Afghanistan.

Black Burqa was the clothing mandate for all the women of Afghanistan. The Taliban considered the burqa a necessary extension of the Islamic veiling custom of Purdah. Before the rise of the Taliban, there was no such mandatory dress code. The windows of the women’s residence were to be painted in black colour; it was forbidden to wash clothes in streams and rivers. When using a means of transportation, all the windows except the facade to be painted in black colour. Women were no longer allowed to board buses with the opposite sex. Taxi drivers were to pick up only women who were escorted by a man. If they were caught breaking this rule, the wife and husband had to bear the consequences.

2001-2020 THE UNITED STATES OCCUPATION

All the restrictions that were imposed with regards to freedom of movement and association, during the period of the Taliban regime were lifted. The Bonn Agreement which set up an interim government for six months stipulated commitment to gender issues.

THE PRESENT AND WHAT THE FUTURE UPHOLDS.

[6]“Women in Afghanistan are being turned down from their offices by the Taliban, universities have been asked to discuss gender segregation possibilities, women are required to be accompanied by male members of their family in public, media are not broadcasting music, journalists and activists are in hiding or in fleeing , former members of the Afghan National Security Forces are scared of the worst, the summary executions, house-to-house searches and information gathering have led to widespread fear.” The Taliban seems to not have changed since the last time it had ruled, even this time it has imposed strict sanctions is on the individual liberty of women.

Thus,to conclude we can say that women`s rights is something that can be gained only when there is a political and economical stability in a nation.


[1] Shannon A. Middieton,Women’s Rights Unveiled: Taliban Treatment of Women in Afghanistan (IND, INT’L& COMP. L. REV. 2001) 11(2) 441

[2] “Taliban To Announce Plans For Girls’ Education Soon”: UN” NDTV,Oct 16,2021.

[3] “Taliban To Announce Plans For Girls’ Education Soon”: UN” NDTV,Oct 16,2021.

[4] See AFP-Kabul, Doctors Ordered Not to Treat Women without their Legal Mahrams

(visited June 25, 1998) <http://www.rawa.org/doctors.htm

[5] Afghanistan’s healthcare system on brink of collapse, as hunger hits 95 percent of families,UN NEWS,Global Human Stories.

[6] Afghanistan women’s rights are ‘red line’, UN rights chief tells States,UN NEWS,Global Human Stories.

Author: Nithyasri G.

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India