Home Editorial Editorial: The Taliban vs. Afghan women

Editorial: The Taliban vs. Afghan women

A recent ban on women employees at U.N. offices further exposes the interim Afghanistan government’s discriminatory policies

by Editorial

File photo. Wakil Kohsar—AFP

Earlier this month, the interim Taliban government in Kabul banned women from working at U.N. offices functioning in Afghanistan in its latest salvo on women’s rights in the war-torn nation. The U.N. has, predictably, refused to accept the decision, terming it an unlawful violation of women’s rights and stressing that women are crucial for the delivery of life-saving aid to millions of Afghans. The latest ban follows an earlier sanction on women in the workplace and an increasingly-condemned decree barring girls from attending school after 6th grade.

The ban on girls’ education is particularly troubling, as the past two decades of democratic rule saw significant boosts to attendance at all schooling levels in Afghanistan. This trend is already reversing, with the Taliban barring girls from securing secondary education and also imposing a ban on women students in universities over an alleged failure to adhere to a strict dress code and a requirement to be accompanied by a male relative while traveling to-and-fro from campus. The situation in the labor market is no better. Female labor force participation had increased to 22 percent in 2019, but the Taliban’s directives have left women restricted to the health sector, with little hope for this to continue as more women are prevented from receiving the requisite education.

The Taliban’s restrictions on women reflect the concerns expressed by critics of the deal inked between them and the U.S. that allowed them to return to power. It wasn’t always like this. Until the Soviet invasion, women in Afghanistan were steadily securing their due rights, having been granted voting rights in 1919; just a year after women in the U.K. and a year before women in the United States. This was followed in 1950s with an abolition of gender segregation and a new constitution in the 1960s that enshrined equal rights, including women’s political participation. Today, this is all being rolled back, with people in Pakistan—most notably Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari—warning that there will be some in the country who would start demanding similar restrictions on women here.

It is unfortunate that women’s rights are most often at-risk in Muslim-majority states; apart from Afghanistan, Iran too severely restricts women’s participation in public life despite a constitution guaranteeing equality of all citizens under law.

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