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Rights of Afghan Women Will Be Under Threat – But the Taliban Should Expect Resistance

Tuesday 24 August 2021, by siawi3


South Asia

Rights of Afghan Women Will Be Under Threat – But the Taliban Should Expect Resistance

The militant group seizing power in Kabul will also have a domino effect on women in Pakistan, rights activist say.

People carry the national flag at a protest held during the Afghan Independence Day in Kabul, Afghanistan August 19, 2021.


: Reuters/Stringer 



Karachi: Afghan women have been living in fear since the Taliban took over Kabul on August 15. Two days later, in its first press conference since seizing power, the Taliban claimed that it would protect women’s rights within the bounds of Sharia law. The very next day, female journalists were prevented from returning to national TV.

The Taliban has a history of imposing hard restrictions on women and not allowing them to work. However, its press conference was carefully worded to try and send a message to the world that the Taliban has changed. In the same conference, this sham was exposed when the group insisted that it has the same ideology it did in the 1990s.

After the Taliban’s takeover, the situation has been especially precarious for journalists. There are reports that the group is ‘hunting’ for journalists and female news anchors have been kidnapped. In this scenario, many journalists – male and female – are understandably hesitant to comment.

The Wire reached out to women in Afghanistan and Pakistan who have criticised the Taliban and their seizure of power.

Pashtana Zalmai Khan Durrani is the executive director of Learn Afghanistan and a columnist. She lives in Afghanistan and told The Wire that Afghanistan is an Islamic country where Sharia law is already followed. It is unclear what the Taliban means when women’s rights will be protected “within the bounds of Sharia law”. Will status quo continue? Or does it have a different, harsher interpretation of Sharia?

Sharia law has been differently interpreted by five schools of thought. In Sunni Islam, there are the Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanafi schools of thought. In Shia Islam, there is the Jaafari school of thought.

Ismat Raza Shahjahan, president of the Women Democratic Front, a Pakistan-based feminist resistance organization, said that the Taliban’s recent presser is an exercise in public relations to get global recognition for their government. “Extremist patriarchy, authoritarianism and fascism go hand in hand. Taliban raj will impose harsh patriarchal restrictions on women. Let the curtain rise fully, the world will see,” she said.

She added there might be a few exceptions, such as in Kabul, where the restrictions might not bee too hard. This, she said, was again to create an image that the Taliban is ‘more reasonable‘ this time around. The lives of women in the country’s peripheries will definitely become more difficult, Shahjahan said. Their existing basic and democratic rights will come under attack and will be curtailed, she added.

Bushra Gohar, a former senator in the Pakistan Parliament and political activist, described the Taliban as terrorists. “The Taliban’s stakes are in terrorising, killing and looting. They have not changed and the Doha Deal has given them legitimacy and a license to kill,” she said, criticising the US’s decision to sign a deal with the group.

Gohar said that this time around, the Taliban could in fact be more violent, as the US and regional powers have entered into a deal with the militant group. “The Taliban have nothing to do with Sharia law, rights, and protection,” she said.

She added that the Taliban was not welcomed by Afghans. The country’s citizens have been pushed back against the group for several decades, the former senator said.

A family arriving from Afghanistan make their way through the Friendship Gate crossing point at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan August 19, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Saeed Ali Achakzai

Gains made will be lost

Ismat Raza says that Afghan society made gains in terms of gender equality gains both before and after the Taliban took control of the country between 1996 and 2001. “Gains were made during democratic and revolutionary periods, not during Taliban rule. Women got constitutional rights, including universal suffrage and the right to run for office under the 1964 Afghan Constitution. While the Saur revolution of 1978 was a period of unprecedented gender equality for women, a particularly progressive gender agenda was implemented by Dr Najibullah (1987-92),” she said.

As a Pashtun from Pakistan, Raza recollected her own experiences of the horrific gender impact of the jihadi project, followed by the so-called war on terrorism and the Talibanisation of Pashtun society. She said that women lost the little gains that were made in relation to gender equality before 1979. “Our struggle is not any different from the struggle of Afghan women,” she said.

Former senator Gohar agrees and says that the Taliban seizing power will have a devastating domino effect on women in Pakistan, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

She said that in Pakistan, the Taliban seem to have popular support among the mainstream media, political parties and even sections of the government.

Nargis Afsheen Khattak, a human rights and political activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said that Afghanistan and the Pashtun areas of Pakistan are closely linked for various reasons. The Taliban in Afghanistan also have support from Pakistan, Khattak said, adding, “What will happen in Afghanistan, will affect us.” She was also of the opinion that the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan will have an adverse effect on women’s rights and education.

Ismat said that extremist patriarchy is a ‘strategic asset’ for the Pakistani establishment and the Afghan Taliban because militarisation of masculinity essentially involves toxic patriarchy and a culture of violence. Only a democratic and sovereign republic can guarantee gender equality, not military dictatorship or an authoritarian emirate – that too by warlords, she said.

“Pakistan, the US, Saudi Arabia and NATO countries have thrown Afghan women to the wolves for their own imperialist and strategic expansions,” said Ismat.

Afghan women will resist

Afghanistan has been torn apart by different wars for several decades. However, in the two decades after the US invasion in 2001, Afghans have made significant gains. The Taliban will realise that the present generation of Aghan is more assertive and aware. For instance, there has been some pushback when it comes to the issue of Afghanistan’s flag. In several places, women and men have held protests for their nation’s flag. Citizens have no accepted the Taliban’s flag.

Ismat firmly believes that democratic and urban Afghan women will no longer accept the Taliban’s patriarchal rule. She urged regional feminist and democratic movements to support their voices.

Pashtana Zalmai embodies the spirit that Ismat alludes to. “I do not care what the Taliban says. I have my own thoughts and will continue my work with the help of technology,” Zalmai said.