Afghanistan: ‘Death in slow motion’

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By Deepa Kaushik

New Delhi, September 7: One year of Taliban Rule began amidst chaos and uncertainty. The Afghan people have experienced subjugation of their human rights, as the country becomes the most dangerous place for human life where every single breath is considered a blessing.

Over the past 12 months, human rights violations against women and girls have mounted steadily, though the Taliban said that they are committed to upholding the rights of women. Despite their tall claims, they have taken a U-turn and restricted the women’s right to education, right to work and right to free movement, and barred women from contesting for public office at any level.

“Decades of progress on gender equality and women’s rights have been wiped out in mere months. We must continue to act together, united in the insistence on guarantees of respect for the full spectrum of women’s rights,” stated the UN Women Executive Director.

In the arena of Education, the Taliban have restricted girls to attend schools and universities, thus they have systematically excluded women from the mainstream education system.

Fatima, a 25-year-old high school teacher based in Nangarhar province, summarized her feelings about her students, “These young girls just wanted to have a future, and now they don’t see any future ahead of them, there are millions of Afghan girls waiting for action”.

Further almost immediately after taking control of the country, the Taliban ordered women employees of the government to stay home. In the private sector, many women have been dismissed from high-level positions. Taliban restrictions on work have created a desperate situation for many women who were their family’s sole bread earners.

For instance, Farida, an office worker said, “When Nangarhar collapsed, the office was closed down, because men and women cannot work together, thereof my family spent two weeks without food in our household. Previously, I couldn’t even think that we wouldn’t have food on the table”.

Similarly, the Taliban’s restrictions on women’s and girls’ freedom of movement have become increasingly dictatorial. Initially, they ordered that all women should be accompanied by a male member for a long-distance journey, while recently, they have declared that women shall not leave their homes unless necessary.

“The crisis for women and girls in Afghanistan is escalating with no end in sight, the policies imposed by the hardliner Taliban have rapidly turned many women into prisoners in their homes, depriving the country from its one of precious resources, and the skills, and talents of the female is going into the drains”, said Heather Barr, associate women’s rights director at the Human Rights Watch.

Subsequently, soon after capturing the country, the Taliban removed women from political participation as they abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and replaced it with the Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Today, the situation in Afghanistan has further deteriorated where women do not hold any cabinet or any other powerful position in the political space.

Even women judges, prosecutors, and lawyers have been side-lined and replaced by the Taliban Fighters and Madrasa graduates without any legal training.

Historically speaking, the emergence of the 20th century has seen a progressive society in Afghanistan where women have their own choices for their desired dressing style, can go to the cinema or any other public places on their own, can vote & participate in the unbounded political sphere, and were provided constitutional equality at various walks of life. But during several coups in the 80s and 90s and now under Taliban rule, women in Afghanistan have witnessed their fundamental and human rights increasingly rolled back.

While analysing the present-day situation of females under Taliban Rule, Amnesty International conducted a research study with a sample population of 100 Afghan women between the age groups ranging from 14 to 74 years. This report describes a web of interrelated restrictions and prohibitions in which Afghan women and girls are trapped.

It clearly demonstrates how the Taliban’s regressive dictums on one single right can have detrimental effects on the enjoyment of other rights. Cumulatively, Taliban policies manifest an entangled system of repression that discriminates against the women in the country in almost every aspect of their lives.

It harms women’s self-worth, confidence, and respect. Enforcers from the Ministry of Vice and Virtue often go to communities, gather people in markets, and use radio, television platforms, or mosque loudspeakers to call for the public to be their eyes and ears in ensuring women abide by the Taliban’s rule of behaviour.

The Taliban’s behaviour and undemocratic policies toward women have dire consequences for women’s social status and their lifelong psychological well-being. The treatment of women as less of human beings or as second-class citizens affects how society as a whole – particularly opposite gender views or treats women at home and in public. Coupled with Afghanistan’s already patriarchal society, it further propagates ever-increasing control over women’s mobility, education, and professional choices, even their choice for accessing daily services and the ability to exercise their fundamental rights.

The scope, magnitude, and severity of the Taliban’s violations against the female population are increasing month by month – day by day. Just within a year of its takeover of Afghanistan, the group’s draconian policies are depriving millions of women of the opportunity for leading safe, free, and fulfilling lives. They are being sentenced, as one Afghan woman put it, to death in slow motion.

(Author is a researcher with Public Policy Research Centre)

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