The Taliban’s war on women
Siobhan Bahl discusses the implications that Taliban rule has for Afghani women
“Our sisters, our men have the same rights” said Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, “they are going to be working with us, shoulder to shoulder with us”
But what does it really mean to be ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the militant Islamist terror group whose name, faces and presence the world has become all too familiar with? While Zabiullah depicted a world where “women will be safe”, we should not be so ready to believe that this Taliban rule will be that different to the occupation of 20 years ago.
The international community in the wake of the Taliban’s sweeping takeover of Afghanistan has paid particular attention to the threat that women and children will face under Taliban rule. UN human rights official Michelle Bachelet outlined the “grave fears for women, for journalists and the new generation”. Further still, the UK’s resettlement response is set to focus on women and children, whilst the World Bank has halted funding in Afghanistan citing concerns over female safety.
The tone is already changing with the Taliban now preventing Afghans from exiting Kabul, and reports emerging of whippings
As the world watches in horror at the events which have unfolded over the past month, a marked shift is felt in Kabul; eerily quiet streets, the filmed press conferences and the call for women and other minorities to join their government. Is this a different Taliban to that of the 1990s? We should not be so quick to assume so. The tone is already changing with the Taliban now preventing Afghans from exiting Kabul, and reports emerging of whippings and beatings at checkpoints on Airport Road.
While the Taliban may pledge to create a society in which women will be allowed to work and receive education, their promises are vague. Zabiullah’s statement that “there’s not going to be any discrimination against women” is simply a PR drive to convince the world that a new, rebranded, moderated Taliban exists. One which the international community should leave alone to govern Afghanistan.
It only takes a simple search on the internet to unearth stories of women being banned from leaving the house without a male relative, the enforcement of burqas and female teachers being barred from teaching boys. The evidence is relentless and unfurling. Such facts don’t exactly repair the deficit of trust between the Taliban and the rest of the world.
Military war was sold as a double-edged attack on fundamentalist terror and female oppression
The Taliban frame their ‘policies’ off a particularly strict, draconian interpretation of Sunni Islam. The ‘Sharia Laws’ outline dress codes for women and gender segregation. The last time the Taliban took control in the 90’s female repression was a cornerstone of their rule. The Taliban’s scriptural interpretations dictated that girls could not attend school, women could not have jobs and the punishment for not adhering to such decrees equated to brutal, often public, floggings and beatings.
As activist Mina Sharif put, when you have a not-so-distant history of treating women as “subhuman”, there can’t be the benefit of the doubt. The Taliban must prove they are different.
Recently the Taliban instructed women to stay at home, based on the danger that soldiers who “keep changing and are not trained” may treat women in “a disrespectful way” or, as Zabiullah told news cameras, “God forbid, hurt”. Is this not history repeating itself? Behind the veil of concern for female security the Taliban are implementing the same societal incarceration of women.
The US and UK went to Afghanistan under the pretence of creating a democracy, with the US describing it as their ‘war on terror’ by circulating images of Afghan women in blue burqas. Not so dissimilar to Cherie Blair’s speech on giving Afghan women a ‘voice’. Military war was sold as double-edged attack on fundamentalist terror and female oppression.
While the international community is restricted in what it can do, that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Standing beside Afghan women, amplifying their voices and applying pressure on the Taliban to protect their rights is the bare minimum that should be done. The Afghan war does not have to be failure.