As the year drew to a close, Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers perhaps dealt the final blow to women’s education: prohibit women from universities. Female students above the sixth form were already housebound by the new rulers closure of schoolsafter pledging to preserve women’s rights and media freedom.
The Taliban have reneged on most of the promises they made immediately after returning to power in August 2021. Tens of thousands of Afghans, including women, fled the country fearing a repeat of the Taliban’s ruthless display of power in the 1990s.
The Taliban had been urging Afghans to return and work for the country, assuring them that schools would open after infrastructure improvements and that women would be allowed to work, unlike under the previous regime between 1996-2001.
It asked the international community to recognize its “Muslim Emirate of Afghanistan” as it remained diplomatically isolated. The international community has urged the group to form an inclusive government and ensure that women’s rights are guaranteed – demands that the Taliban appear to have ignored.
Western sanctions have virtually collapsed the country’s economy, worsening the humanitarian situation in the country. People have been forced to sell their babies and young girls to survive.
More than 90 percent of the 38 million people are at risk of poverty and about 23 million people have faced acute hunger as the Taliban have struggled to get the economy back on track due to their financial isolation.
But instead of tackling the dire humanitarian crisis, to which Western sanctions and the freezing of nearly $10 billion in Afghan bank accounts have contributed enormously, the Taliban has been accused of devoting all its energies to pushing back women’s rights.
It started with advice on a dress code for women, followed by more specific orders: female journalists were asked on TV to veil themselves, employment opportunities for women dwindled, and then women were gradually pushed out of public space.
The group has justified the restrictions on women’s rights based on its interpretations of Islamic law. Women’s education and employment are allowed in Muslim-majority countries, many of whom base their laws on interpretations of Islam. Some senior Taliban leaders have said that Islam guarantees women the right to education and work.
Afghan women have resisted the restrictions. Protesting to demand education and jobs, many activists worked behind the scenes to work on numerous gender issues facing women in the country. Inspirational stories worth mentioning are the secret school in Bamiyan run by a young woman and a underground book club run in the capital Kabul by a bunch of students. Many of them have faced arrests and intimidation for their courage to speak out.
The group’s claim to create security has also been challenged, as the local ISIL affiliate, ISKP, has been successful in carrying out attacks particularly targeting minority Hazaras. In August, al-Qaeda leader Ayman became al-Zawahiri killed in a CIA drone strike in Kabul, with the US accusing the Taliban of violation the 2020 Doha Agreement.
The country has also fallen victim to climate change, with floods ravaging parts of the country earlier this year. In June, more than 1,000 people died when the country was hit by the deadliest earthquake in 20 years.