Taliban Occupation Of Afghanistan Faces Feminist Resistance
On August 16, President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and the Taliban established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. While the world is still processing the Taliban's victory and the collapse of the Afghan government, women fear for their lives, and a new armed resistance movement is born.
The Taliban now presents itself as modern and even more progressive than in previous years. They now operate Twitter accounts and even engage in propaganda online. Notable are also pro-Taliban accounts on social media that attempt to gaslight and derail criticisms or reports of wrongdoing by the Taliban.
The Taliban also want to appear presentable to the international community to gain legitimacy and join international trade. During negotiations in Doha, their rhetoric about women’s rights seemingly shifted in an attempt to appease western nations. They pledged to allow girls to study and women work, followed by the vague caveat “as permitted by Islam.”
The Taliban's War On Women
Even when Taliban leaders offered moderately milder rhetoric on women’s rights, there is disconnect between what they claim in TV interviews and what they do on the streets. There are credible reports of women and children being beaten, raped, and enslaved for baby production as so called wives.
Previously when the Taliban ruled from 1996 to 2001, they banned almost all education for women and girls. A local fighter from Herat told the channel France 24 in June 2021. “We destroy them [and] put in place our own religious schools, in order to train future Taliban,” In Taliban-run religious schools for girls, students learn the “appropriate” Islamic role of women, according to the Taliban’s regressive Islam. The education consists largely of preparing girls to be domestic slaves and submissive. The Taliban imposed punishments including stoning, lashing, and amputation, and imprisoned women to their homes unless they were escorted by a male family member, denying them any freedom.
Today, local Taliban commanders are using mosque loudspeakers in areas under their control, announcing that women must now wear the burqa and have a male chaperone in public of face punishment. The Taliban is also reportedly closing public schools, libraries, and computer labs to roll back education and free will. After the take over of the Taliban, notable women like judges, government officials, celebrities, journalists, and human rights activists have gone into hiding. They are being hunted down, some of which are reportedly being summarily executed or disappeared for daring to advance their education, career, and human rights.
After the Taliban was driven out by the United States early in the war, women bravely entered public life in Afghanistan in droves. While the Taliban was not around, women still face hardship and were targeted by the highly regressive and patriarchal society. Despite facing tremendous obstacles, Afghan women entered fields of law, medicine and politics. Women make up more than a quarter of parliamentarians, and by 2016 more than 150,000 women had been elected to local offices nationwide.
The Taliban's Islam vs Human Rights
In Afghanistan, everyone faces severe restrictions under the Taliban's Islamic rule, but those imposed on women are the most severe. Their values include the flogging of girls and women for disobeying men or stepping out of line, and the denial of education, autonomy, and basic human rights for women. Under previous Taliban rule, women were not seen as human and were treated as slaves, they could not visit health centers, attend school, or work. According to the Taliban's version of Islam, women are inferior and only valued for slave labour, baby production slavery, and rape.
What is permitted by Islam is free to interpretation. Many conservative Muslims believe that Islam is incompatible with Western notions of democracy and human rights (especially women rights), reformist Muslim thinkers and activists maintain that a proper reading of Islamic injunctions and the ethical values underpinning those injunctions shows there is no such incompatibility. Like in many other places around the world wherever conservative religious interpretations are used as the basis of law and governance it is seldom compatible with democracy, human rights (especially women rights), and international law.
International Cognitive Dissonance
The countries departing Afghanistan have claimed that they will exert influence over the Taliban based on its need for financial assistance, legitimacy and recognition. However these statements ring hollow next to a reality which dictates that the Taliban does not need western approval.
Carefully targeted sanctions and aid conditionality, along with UN mechanisms, such as UN Security Council actions, the ongoing involvement of the International Criminal Court, treaty bodies, special rapporteurs, and the role of the UN Mission Assistance to Afghanistan could be used to influence the Taliban. However this strategy has proven itself fruitless over and over again, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea are the best known examples. Recently the international communities diplomatic measures against authoritarian regimes has also failed in Syria, Belarus, and Myanmar. In particular due to meddling by Russia and China who openly oppose western interests and global welfare. Today the major rising partners for the Taliban are China, Russia, Pakistan and other authoritarian nations currently waging war on global democracy, plurality, and human rights.
The limits of political will, especially when it comes women’s rights has been evident across the world. Governments that claim to support women's rights have pulled support for the issue at home and abroad as women rights are placed in the backburner. In the US politicians argue on women's reproductive autonomy, and in Europe women safe spaces and opportunities are continually under attack under the guise of social plurality.
Several countries, including Sweden and Canada, both of which have played major roles in assisting the United States in Afghanistan, have claimed to possess a feminist foreign policy. However, inlight of the recent takeover they have been painfully silent as Afghan women called for help and to be saved from the Taliban's reign of terror.
Politican's and officials worldwide used women rights in Afghanistan for cheap political points and even to justify thier military presence in the country. Often paying lipservice to womens rights in an effort to appear progressive and heroic, while barely materializing any actual aid. In 2011, efforts to support women’s rights were stripped out of US programs, which male US officials viewed as unimportant, one even reportdly said, “All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down.” US aid funding to Afghanistan fell from $16,748 million in 2010 to $3,120 million in 2021.
Millions of Afghans now exist in uncertainty for their futures, women are prisoners within their own homes, living in fear, unable to go in public alone, show their faces, or persuit their dreams. In Afghanistan being a woman should be enough to grant someone refugee status but a lack of political will abroad prevents it. Thousands of Afghan women have left the country in recent years to pursuit better lives in North America and Europe, but to do so they had to risk their lives getting an education, career, and finding limited opportunities. Today all avenues for women to flee have been dashed, western media reports about the 'more progressive Taliban', and foreign countries pledge to work with it if it 'respects' fundamental human rights. Beyond the international lips service and attempted appeasement of the Taliban, women have been abandoned and their pathway to a better future has been erased.
Despite it all, 20 years of freedom and education has seeded future resistance among Afghan women and youth, some of which have even held brave protests since the Taliban takeover. In Kabul women remained defiant in the streets and in the eastern city of Jalalabad mass protests against the Taliban erected Afghanistan's national flag, which resulted in several murders by Taliban forces. In the north of the country, ANA forces are beginning to regroup alongside militias, forming The Northern Alliance. The vice President Amrullah Saleh has declared himself the new caretaker President and has vowed armed resistance against the Taliban.
In Afghanistan, the international community and the ANA may have lost the war against the Taliban, but those left behind under Taliban rule are far from surrender. There is now a new occupation to resist. Women rights are human rights, and resistance is existence.