Democrats reintroduce legislation to expand the Supreme Court, set term limits

AP/J. Scott Applewhite

The Supreme Court ended its term with decisions that challenged precedent and rolled back rights for the environment, Black and Latino college applicants, same-sex couples, and student loan borrowers. With a 6-3 conservative majority, the Court is making its highest rate of conservative decisions since 1931.Two of its Justices have violated ethics protocol and its approval rating is at a record low of 40%. Legislation cycling through Congress could fix this.

In May, Democrats reintroduced a bill to expand the Supreme Court. The Judiciary Act of 2023 would add four seats to the Supreme Court, creating a 13-Justice bench. Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are leading the legislation in the Senate, joined by Representatives Jerrold Nadler (NY-12), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Cori Bush (MO-01), and Adam Schiff (CA-30) in the House. 

The Judiciary Act was first introduced in 2021 but, if passed, it would be the seventh time Congress changed the composition of the Court. The Court initially had six Justices, which grew to nine as the country expanded West. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln added a tenth Justice to secure an anti-slavery majority. After his assassination, Congress cut the number of Justices to seven to prevent Lincoldn’s successor, Andrew Johnson, from making nominations. Once Johnson left office in 1869, Congress reinstated a nine-Justice Court.

An unbalanced Court

“We are not packing the Supreme Court, we are unpacking it,” Representative Nadler explained when he introduced the Judiciary Act. Senator Warren said this legislation will rebalance the Court and punish bad actors who manipulated the nomination process.

After Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016, President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill the vacant seat. Senate Republicans refused to vote on the nomination, arguing that the seat should remain empty until the country elected a new president. They blocked the confirmation for an unprecedented 294 days.

In 2020, Republicans did the opposite. After Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Senate Republicans confirmed the nomination eight days before the presidential election.

On June 30, Democrats in the House reintroduced the Supreme Court Term Limits and Regular Appointments Act. This bill would set an 18-year term limit, allow the President to nominate a new Justice in the first and third years of their term, and require the Senate to vote on a nominee within 120 days of their nomination. 

An unethical Court

Concerns about ethics and tipped scales have fueled Democrats’ push for more Justices. 

Justice Clarence Thomas has taken undisclosed gifts and trips for which a major Republican donor paid hundreds of thousands of dollars. Justice Samuel Alito took an undisclosed vacation with a Republican billionaire who has had cases before the Court. Altio did not recuse himself from these cases. 

Justices’ ethics violations go beyond financial incentives. In 1991, Anita Hill testified that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. The Senate confirmed Thomas in a 52-48 vote. In 2018, Christine Blasey Ford testified that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school. He was sworn in two weeks later.

An unjust Court

In a 5-4 decision last summer, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and its 50-year precedent. The ruling rolled back the right to abortion, denying women bodily autonomy and creating a framework for the Court to overturn precedent on contraception access, same-sex marriage, and other major rulings. 

This year, the Court finished their term with three major decisions split 6-3 along partisan lines. The conservative majority rejected affirmative action, weighed free speech above LGBTQ rights, and struck down Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan. These decisions leaned into political preferences and reversed decades of anti-discrimination precedent.

Supreme Court Justices must uphold democracy, not upend it. The Feminist Majority believes that the country needs judicial reform. We need a Court that defends bodily autonomy and recognizes systemic inequities. We need Justices whose jurisprudence is independent of partisanship and undisclosed gifts. We need Justices who deliver justice.

Taliban Orders International Organizations to Stop all Education Programs in Afghanistan

A new order from the Taliban demands that all international organizations providing education in Afghanistan stop their activities in a month and hand them over to local groups.

A WhatsApp voice note began circulating among the Afghan networks on Wednesday, in which the official, purportedly a senior education official of the Taliban in Kabul, demands that all international organizations be given a one-month deadline to stop and hand over their education programs to local groups – with the approval and coordination of the Ministry of Education.

While the voice note targets international organizations, it also shares that for now, they will not target national NGOs but that “a decision has been reached that local NGOs will be asked to stop their activities too, if they do not comply with the rules.” Afghan women and girls are concerned that the new order will further push them away and be banned from all educational opportunities.

In the voice note, the official also suggests sharing the order “verbally” with local heads of the Education Departments. “If international organizations raise their voices, we will issue a written statement signed by the Minister of Education,” the person continues. He is asking all Provincial Education Departments to act on the demand as soon as possible.

Reports of the Taliban pushing out NGOs from the country’s education sector and ordering them to transfer their activities to local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have raised alarms within the Afghan and international communities.

Aid agencies, including UNICEF, a lead agency in education in Afghanistan, have acknowledged the voice message and have shared their “deep” concern over the Taliban’s demand to stop their activities.

UNICEF said in a statement that the order would have a dire impact on the education of over 500,000 children, including more than 300,000 girls. The children could lose access to quality learning opportunities.

The latest restriction on NGOs operating in Afghanistan comes in the wake of a ban imposed in December on Afghan female staff working for international organizations in Afghanistan. The Taliban alleges that women have been violating the correct wearing of the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, and non-compliance with gender segregation in the workplace. Subsequently, in April, the ban was extended to the United Nations as well.

The new measure affects all international organizations, regardless of whether they are Islamic, and only the Taliban Education Ministry-approved Afghan NGOs that meet certain conditions will be allowed to engage in education work. School construction projects are also stopped by the order of the official.

UNICEF, as well as other aid agencies, are seeking further information from the Education Ministry in Kabul to understand the reported directive and its implications better. Currently, approximately 17,000 teachers, including 5,000 women, are involved in UNICEF’s education activities in Afghanistan.

In April this year, the Taliban closed education centers supported by NGOs in the southern provinces of Afghanistan – Kandahar and Helmand, predominantly impacting girls’ education beyond the sixth grade. The Taliban Ministry of Education did not provide the exact reasons for these closures at the time. The Taliban official said they are suspended until “further notice” while a committee reviews their activities. The Taliban has been using these lines, but the officials haven’t completed their reviews in nearly two years.

Since the Taliban takeover of the government in August 2021 and the subsequent economic hardships, international and national aid agencies have been providing crucial support to Afghans through food, education, and healthcare services.

AP 06/08/2023; AP 04/23/2023

Afghan Women Tell Special Envoys Not to Recognize the Taliban and “Refrain from Compromising our Rights.”

In a meeting with some special envoys of a few countries for Afghanistan, Afghan women emphasized that Taliban recognition should not be up for debate and that anything about Afghanistan should be consulted with Afghan women.

Over 60 Afghan women representing diverse advocacy groups and coalitions met with the special envoys from Qatar, United Arab Emirates, the US, Indonesia, Norway and a few others from Europe. The meeting of special envoys for Afghanistan is happening today and tomorrow in Doha, Qatar.

Afghan women reiterated that “this meeting does not take the place of official representation by Afghan women in the Doha Conference. As a collective of Afghan women, we demand that women are centered in every peace talk, international conference, and negotiation about Afghanistan.”

Afghan women from inside Afghanistan recounted how their lives have changed since the Taliban takeover on August 15, 2021. They shared stories of a complete reversal from the life and gains of the past 20 years to the Taliban’s practices during their first rule in the late 1990s when women had no rights and no public presence.

Afghan women’s message is simple: do not trust the Taliban and do not take them for their word. Sanction them for their actions and violations of human rights and women’s rights. The Taliban’s actions are neither Islamic nor cultural. Do not be “deceived” by the Taliban’s promises. (Read the full list of recommendations and demands of Afghan women from the special envoys here.)

One Afghan woman who was a lawyer before the Taliban takeover said her “job and profession don’t exist because the judicial system does not exist anymore under the Taliban.” She said, “I have lost my job at a time that is needed the most because women are being discriminated against the most.”

She recounted stories of forced marriages and that street courts and “desert courts” have become common again. The former lawyer recommended to the envoys to launch an investigation into the disappeared judicial system, the lives and struggles of the former men and women lawyers and judges, and the absolute absence of laws as well as the Taliban litigation that’s missing every appropriate measure.

Her demand, “hold the perpetrators accountable.”

Another woman shared that “we want the world to know what’s happening in Afghanistan and to Afghan women. We do not want the Taliban to be recognized.”

She referred to the often-forgotten subject of the consequences of the Taliban takeover – the massive psychological abuse and mental health issues that Afghan women face. “Right now, while I am speaking with you, women are not working, and it is the psychological abuse that women go through every day – for simple things, from the color of their clothes to the nail polish they wear and so on.”

Another speaker stated that “the West should sanction the Taliban like it has sanctioned pro-war Russia.”

Afghan women were dismayed at the international community that it has been nearly two years, but “our allies have not taken concrete actions to hold the Taliban accountable.” A speaker said, “With all the power, the international community hasn’t delivered for us.”

They demand the envoys to “refrain from “compromising Afghans’ rights in return for Taliban’s cooperation.” They say the Taliban won’t deliver on their promises.

Afghan Women Leaders Ask the UN Not to Recognize the Taliban

In an open letter to the United Nations leadership, UN Security Council, and member states, Afghan women demand that they stand “firm on their commitment” to not recognizing the Taliban as the official rulers of Afghanistan.

The Taliban took power by force on August 15, 2021, and since their return, they have systematically violated the human rights of Afghan women and girls.

The statement expresses deep “concern” at the statement issued by the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, on April 17, in which she suggested that at an UN-convened conference in May, envoys for Afghanistan in Doha would be given the opportunity to “find those baby steps to put us back on the pathway to recognition” of the Taliban.

Since the Taliban takeover of the government in Afghanistan, Afghan women have repeatedly advised against any formal recognition or legitimacy to the Taliban.

In the letter, Afghan women are clear that their rights are not up for negotiations; no unconditional engagement should occur until respect for human rights and women’s rights are guaranteed on paper and in action; humanitarian aid delivery is impossible without women and Afghan women must be meaningfully consulted.

The idea of recognizing the Taliban as the official representatives of Afghanistan have shocked Afghan women. They say the Taliban grossly violated international laws, including the UN Charter, has eliminated women from public life, women and girls have no or very limited access to education and employment and have even ordered the UN that their Afghan women staff members could not continue their jobs at the UN offices in Afghanistan.

With the Taliban’s relentless attacks on Afghan women and girls, Afghan women believe any recognition of the Taliban under the current circumstances would “reward a violent group.”

Afghan women leaders remind the Deputy Secretary General and other UN officials that the same UN officials have often condemned the Taliban violations against Afghan women and girls and that walking those statements back would “undermine the UN’s credibility.” They ask the UN not to grant the Taliban a seat at the UN.

Sources: Afghan women’s letter; VoA news.

Taliban barred women from working with the UN in Afghanistan. UN condemns and reviews its presence in Afghanistan.

The United Nations announced today in a statement that it is reviewing its “operational presence” in Afghanistan after the Taliban barred its women staff from working at the agency. The UN unequivocally condemns the decision, calling it “unacceptable” and “unlawful.”

Last week, the Taliban authorities informed the UN that women employees of the UN would no longer be able to continue their jobs at the UN in Afghanistan. Previously in December 2022, the Taliban had issued a country-wide edict that women could no longer work with non-profit and civil society organizations. The Taliban also forced women out of government civil services shortly after their return to power in August 2021.

While the latest move to further eliminate women from public life has been criticized globally, it is not the first time the Taliban has taken such extreme measures to deny women their right to work. The regime has deliberately discriminated against women and girls, pushing them away from most areas of public and daily life in Afghanistan, confining them only to their homes, and denying them access to needed services.

Since the group took control of the government, nearly 100 edicts have been issued, a majority of which target women and girls. Among them, women and girls have been barred from education and employment, and their movement has been restricted only when “necessary” and accompanied by close male relatives.

For Afghan women, though, condemnation is not enough. They demand a “strong commitment” from donors and ally countries against the constant attacks from the Taliban on women and girls.


Taliban Arrests Prominent Education Activist

This week the new academic year began in Afghanistan, and girls were once again denied their fundamental right to education. Schools only reopened for boys.

The Taliban also arrested a long-time respected education activist for all kids across Afghanistan. Matiullah Wesa has spent years traveling to some of the most remote areas, promoting education for all children, especially girls’ right to education. Despite receiving death threats for advocating kids’ access to education, he and his brothers have been constant allies.

Wesa founded the Pen Path organization, a non-profit, and together with his brothers, set up libraries and distributed books and stationeries. Since the Taliban takeover of the government in August 2021, the Wesa brothers didn’t stop.

They continued their campaign for girls’ right to education, often speaking with local tribal and religious leaders to allow girls to study. He also used his platform to show the Afghan people’s desire and thirst for education. The Pen Path network has thousands of volunteers across Afghanistan and has helped set up classrooms and distributed books to over 300,000 Afghans

Wesa was on his way out of the mosque when the Taliban arrested him. He and his two brothers are in the custody of the Taliban. Shortly afterward, the Taliban intelligence raided his house, confiscated their phones, and insulted their mother, another Wesa brother shared on social media.

The Taliban has been arresting women and men, protesting the ban on women and girls’ education and employment. Recently, the Taliban arrested a group of women protesting the ban on their education and employment, corresponding with the second anniversary of the school’s reopening.

In February, the Taliban also arrested a notable university lecturer, Ismail Mashal, who was also protesting the Taliban ban on women and girls’ rights to education. His media activism and a handcart library on the street, handing out free books and with the message: “Islam has given women and men equal rights to education” have fully changed his life – living under the Taliban’s constant surveillance even after his release. Prof. Mashal has remained silent since his release from the Taliban detention.

The continued arrests, detention, torture, and conditional releases send a strong message to all Afghans who dare speak up against the Taliban: if you do, you will be arrested, detained, and tortured.

Afghanistan is the only country in the world where women and girls are systematically banned from getting an education.

Since the Taliban took control of the government in August 2021, women and girls have steadily lost their rights and freedoms. The Taliban has issued nearly 100 edicts, most restricting women’s rights. Girls cannot go to school beyond grade 6; women were banned from higher education in December 2022. The same month, women were also not allowed to work with non-profit organizations anymore. Women cannot go to parks and gyms and are told they can leave their “house only if necessary.

BBC, Guardian, Twitter.

Afghan women demand that the world listens to them and does not forget them.

As people worldwide reflect on the achievements of women this International Women’s Day, millions of Afghan women and girls are mourning the loss of their basic human rights and freedoms. They call on the world to listen to them and give them a central role in any discussion about their country.

Since the Taliban took control of the government on August 15, 2021, it has launched a brutal campaign against women and girls, eliminating them from public spaces and opportunities. Among many restrictions, the regime has severely restricted Afghan women and girls’ education, employment, and mobility. Afghanistan is the only country in the world that bans women and girls from education and employment.

The Taliban had done this once before when they were first in power in the late 1990s. Since their return to power, the Taliban has reinstituted gender apartheid and has created a system in which women are systematically and methodically treated as less than humans and “less important.” This treatment of women cannot be ignored.

Women and girls cannot attend school past the 6th grade, cannot seek employment in many sectors, and have been blocked from every opportunity to better their lives. This week alone, the Taliban announced that only men would return to continue their higher education at public universities, once again depriving women of their fundamental human right to education.

The Taliban’s edicts and treatment of women and girls have also led to gross human suffering, including a collapsing economy and 28 million Afghans, mostly women and children, needing humanitarian aid. Six million of them are close to famine.

Afghan women and girls are not celebrating but demanding that their human rights and freedoms be restored. Several Afghan women speaking on various international platforms demand that Afghan women and girls’ suffering not be ignored and be given a central role in any discussion about their future and the future of their country.

Although very few can speak publicly because of fears of retribution from the Taliban, they urge governments and international organizations not to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan. “Women are dead under the Taliban… do not recognize the Taliban,” said another advocate at the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

While there is a long way for women worldwide to achieve full equality; for Afghan women and girls living under the Taliban in Afghanistan, the road has become even longer and more treacherous.  

Since the Taliban takeover, Afghan women have been fighting for their freedom and equality across their country. Some have been thrown in prison, some are still missing, and some have even been killed, but the protests continue in various forms. Their advocacy demanding fundamental human rights and freedoms has not ceased.

On this International Women’s Day, Afghan women and girls demand “real and meaningful support and action” from governments and international organizations for the women of Afghanistan.

UN; social media.

International Women’s Day 2023: An update on reproductive freedom

As we celebrate this International Women’s Day, it is important that we take time to reflect on the rapidly changing status of reproductive freedom in our country following the overturn of Roe v. Wade. 

Yesterday, Florida Republicans introduced an extreme 6-week abortion ban in the state legislature, with the Republican supermajority making it almost certain that the state will further restrict abortion past its current 15-week ban. The bill allows for anyone who “willfully performs or actively participates in a termination of pregnancy” that violates these restrictions to be charged with a third-degree felony and a maximum prison sentence of five years. Governor DeSantis has already stated that he will sign this bill if it gets to his desk. 

The most restrictive abortion bills have been passed in the South and the Midwest, exacerbating inequalities in abortion access, especially based on race. Many of these states also lack strong social policies that support families and childcare and have limited access to maternity care, worsening maternal and infant health outcomes. With the costs of being denied abortion access so high, women and girls will face extremely difficult decisions, with some inevitably resorting to unsafe abortion methods, threatening their lives.   

The fate of mifepristone still remains uncertain as we await the ruling of the Texas federal judge. According to the Guttmacher Institute, medication abortions account for 54% of abortions. Pharmacies have become a primary battleground in the fight for abortion rights over the distribution of abortion pills. Walgreens recently announced that they are not planning to sell the abortion drug in 20 states where abortion is legal, following threats by Republican leaders. In response, California Governor Gavin Newsom has threatened to completely cut ties with Walgreens “or any company that cowers to the extremists and puts women’s lives at risk.”

Currently, 18 states, including DC, have in place legal protections to abortion access. But this is not enough. Millions of women have been stripped of their freedom to make decisions over their own body as 12 states have banned abortion and many others have passed severe restrictions. 

We will not stop fighting until every person in the country has equal access to reproductive rights.   

HuffPost 3/7/2023; Guttmacher 2/1/2023; Washington Post 3/6/2023

Taliban Bans the Selling of Contraceptives in Afghanistan

In the latest attack on women, the Taliban has ordered pharmacies in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif to stop selling any form of contraceptives. The Taliban has called family planning and the use of contraception “Western” and “forbidden” in their interpretation of Sharia law. Mazar-e-Sharif is the largest city in northern Afghanistan, where many family planning programs were popular during the two decades under the republic.

The Taliban views the use of contraceptives by women as a “western conspiracy” to control the Muslim population. The group views family planning as “unnecessary work.”  

During the two decades under the Islamic Republic, much progress was made in the health sector. Progress was slow in most parts of the country, but overall, maternal and infant mortality had decreased, and skilled birth attendance was increasing.

Since the Taliban takeover of the government in Afghanistan, much of that progress has been reversed, and according to a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report from August 2022, Afghanistan “has the most maternal deaths in Asia-Pacific at 638 deaths/100,000 live births,” compared to 394 deaths in prior years.

Afghan women’s access to healthcare has been impacted dramatically as a result of daily Taliban edicts and attacks on women, including health professionals paired with a tremendous decrease in international aide. In another recent action that harms women, the Taliban issued an order that women must be accompanied by a male relative while visiting a doctor. In another order, women health professionals were asked to bring a male relative along to their work.

If the ban on the selling of contraceptives is enforced, the impact will be devastating as pregnant women can no longer access the care they need throughout their pregnancies and their well-being in between pregnancies.

In the early days of their return to power in August 2021, the Taliban officials promised that this time around, they would take a relatively “moderate” stance on women’s employment and education. However, the group has double downed on attacking women and stripped them of all their fundamental human rights. Among many restrictions and contrary to Islamic teachings, the Taliban has denied Afghan girls their right to education, and Afghan women can no longer work and pursue higher education. Afghan women are also prohibited from leaving their homes unless “necessary.”

Increased Attacks against Hazaras in Afghanistan; Mostly Girls and Women Killed and Wounded

Since the Taliban takeover, Human Rights Watch has documented 16 attacks against Hazaras that have killed and wounded at least 700 people. The September 30th attack on an educational center in a predominantly Hazara neighborhood of Kabul killed 53 and injured more than 110 people, all of whom were recent high school graduates. Girls and women were the primary victims. Days following the attack, the Taliban violently broke protests of women who were demonstrating against the targeted killings of Hazaras.

Although ISIS-K has taken responsibility for most of the attacks against Hazaras and minorities in Afghanistan, the Taliban has failed to protect religious and ethnic minorities.

According to an official from the learning center, about 600 students were taking a mock university entrance exam when gunmen entered the building. Per new rules of the Taliban, girls and boys sit separately, with classrooms often segregated by a curtain. The suicide attacker targeted the girls’ side, killing a majority of them.

Another recent attack on the Kaaj learning center, a private tutoring center, was the fourth targeting schools and learning centers in the Hazara neighborhood since 2018, leaving dozens killed and injured. The same center under another name, Mawoud Academy, was attacked in 2018, leaving 40 dead and 67 wounded.

With public schools being closed to girls, private schools and tutoring centers have become a lifeline for Afghan girls determined to continue their education. The academies and learning centers offer additional training and help in succeeding in school and entrance exams to universities. Students seeking extra help in these centers have dreams and hopes, but many of them will not be able to realize those dreams due to ongoing attacks and violent threats.

As many Afghan women predicted, since the Taliban takeover, the group has enforced many restrictions against women, depriving them of public education, employment, social and political participation, and equal opportunities to prosper. Millions of Afghan girls are banned by the Taliban authorities from attending schools beyond grade 6th. The Taliban, however, has not prevented women from pursuing higher education at the college level, although the regime recently limited what fields the girls can study. Despite these significant restrictions on women’s rights and equal opportunities, Afghan women and girls defiantly continue to fight for them. While these attacks are major setbacks, Afghan women continue to show determination and resilience in demanding their rights and status in society since the Taliban took power last year.

Afghan Women Reject Taliban Decree That Women Must Wear Head-to-Toe Coverings

A new Taliban decree requires Afghan women to cover themselves from head to toe, and deputizes men to force women to follow the rule.

In the eight months since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan, the group has reinstated its repressive rules in full force, specifically targeting women and girls. Among many restrictions introduced, secondary school-age girls have been restricted from schools, women public servants have been removed from their jobs, women can no longer travel alone, and public and academic spaces have become limited and segregated. 

With the Taliban’s latest decree issued Saturday, women are now required to cover themselves from head to toe—preferably using a burka. The burka is a blue garment, long considered emblematic of the Taliban oppression of women in Afghanistan. 

The new edict from the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice goes beyond targeting women on the street. It also officially deputizes men to force women to follow the rules, punishing the male guardian for failing to force the women of the family to abide by the new ruling. 

Per the edict, “hejab or covering according to Islam is mandatory”—and women who do not obey the rule will be punished. For their first violation, the woman will be visited by ministry officials who will speak with her guardian to ensure that she dresses according to the rule. 

For a second violation of the rule, her guardian must be called to come to the relevant office of the Taliban in the area. After a third violation, the guardian will be put in prison for three days. For a fourth violation, the guardian will be summoned to the religious court and receive further punishment.

The decree also states that the women who still work with government institutions would be subject to removal from work should they refuse to cover up. Under Taliban rule, the number of women doctors, nurses and teachers has already decreased significantly. Male government employees whose women family members don’t comply with the rule could be subject to suspension.

Adding Fuel to the Domestic Violence Crisis

Domestic violence has already been exacerbated by the ongoing humanitarian and economic crisis—and this edict further adds fuel to the fire, requiring men to enforce the decree under threat of Taliban persecution.

The Taliban’s obsession with women is nothing new: Under its first rule in the 1990s, the group heavily restricted women’s rights. This second time around, the group has reinstated all their previous policies against women—but has gone further by tasking men with ensuring that women family members comply with rules.

The Taliban Edict About Women in Education Is Not Islamic or Cultural

The Taliban’s edicts dictating women and girls’ place in daily life—from barring them from education to demanding full coverage including the face and hands—have no precedence in Afghanistan or any other Muslim-majority country. For years, the Taliban restricted women’s rights and justified their actions under the guise of Islam, which is consistently met with a backlash from global Islamic scholars and advocates.

With each subsequent edict, the Taliban further removes Afghan women from public life. With other crises around the world, Afghan people, particularly women, are disappointed at the world looking the other way in silence. Without women as full members of society, there can be no peace and stability in Afghanistan. 

Two Months in, the Taliban Continues to Abandon Girls’ Education

Earlier this week, at a speaking engagement in Doha, the foreign minister of the Taliban, Amir Khan Mottaqi avoided answering questions about education for women and girls and reiterated that they need more time on girls’ education.

In response to questions on girls’ education, the Minister used “cultural appropriations” as the argument for not allowing girls above grade 6 to attend schools. “In Afghanistan, there is one thing that the Afghans want and then there is another thing that the international community wants. One of the reasons that it didn’t work over the past 20 years, is that it was against the will of the Afghan people.” Previously, the group used security as the main reason for not allowing girls to attend schools.

While the minister uses “cultural” differences as the means for preventing girls from attending school, he is disregarding the real “wants of the Afghan society.” In surveys done over the past 20 years, an overwhelming majority of the Afghan people in rural and urban areas want education for themselves and their children. In a survey done by the Asia Foundation in 2019, support for women’s educational opportunities was at 86.6%. The same survey found out that 76% of the respondents supported women’s right to employment.

The Taliban’s minister for foreign affairs is currently in Doha meeting with officials from the US, EU, Britain, and the gulf. In his remarks, he demanded that the US releases Afghanistan’s assets worth $9bn and that the world should work with them.

Access to education and opportunities to women were considered some of the top achievements of the past 20 years and since the collapse of the former government on August 15th, women are not allowed to work and girls above grade 6 are told to stay home until further notice. Boys of all ages are allowed to go to school, and only women in healthcare are allowed to work.

Over the course of the negotiations with the US and the Afghan government, the Taliban stated that they will allow girls to study, women to work and that they did not intend to “monopolize” power. The group’s leaders also insist that their agreement with the US remains valid. However, after two months in power, the Taliban continues to violate the commitments they made in the agreement with the US and appears determined to weaponize women’s education and employment.

Sources: Keynote speaker Doha 10/11/2021/ Relief Web 12/3/19

The Taliban Announces Additional Government Officials, All Members of Their Old Guard

Early this week, the Taliban announced additional members of their cabinet, and once again, all of them are the old guard of the Taliban, despite promises of an inclusive government during peace talks. The 38 new members of the interim government of the Taliban were appointed to military and civilian positions.

On September 7th, the Taliban announced a “caretaker government”, many of the officials coming from the Taliban’s old guard, hardliners, and almost half of them are on international sanction or terrorist lists. The second announcement of the government’s high-ranking jobs is a major step towards reestablishing their dictatorial and extreme rule, similar to that of the 1990s.

Soon after the announcement of the cabinet, the supreme leader of the Taliban asked his cabinet members to uphold Sharia law. In his statement, Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada said that the Taliban want “strong and healthy relations with our neighbors and all other countries based on mutual respect and interaction.” However, he clarified that they would only respect international laws and treaties “that are not in conflict with Islamic law and the country’s national values”. He refers to the Taliban’s ideas of Islamic law and values, as most Afghans do not share the same radical views on the role of women, minorities, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and other principles of democracy and equality.

Over the past two years during the negotiations, the Taliban leaders gave assurances that they did not intend to monopolize power, that they would be more moderate than they were during the late 1990s when the Taliban was first in power, that women will be allowed to work in public offices, and that it will be an inclusive government. The two announcements of the members of the Taliban cabinet and other high-ranking officials in the new government indicate that the group’s conservative core and exclusive nature of ruling have not changed. Despite calls from the international community for a government that is representative of gender and ethnic diversity of Afghanistan, the group has continued to implement its core conservative values on the people.

ToloNews 10/5/21; BBC 9/7/21; AP 7/23/21

The Taliban issued a statement only calling for boys to return to school

On Sep. 17, the Taliban issued a statement calling only for boys to return to secondary schools. The statement did not include girls. When the schools reopened the next day, millions of girls across the country did not return to their classes, depriving them of their basic right to education.

Students in secondary schools are aged between 13-18 and under the former government, they were already segregated by gender and studied on separate campuses or different shifts of the day. The announcement has stirred more fears among the Afghan people. They fear this is just another measure to curb women’s rights, freedoms, and access to education and opportunities.

Over the past two decades, progress and opportunities for women were some of the most prominent achievements of the Afghan people, and access to education was at the top of those achievements. Under the Taliban rule in 1996-2001, girls were banned from going to school. Those who did seek education did so in underground schools and risked their safety, as did their teachers.

From 2002 – 2021, with help from the international community, schools reopened for boys and girls in Afghanistan, and nearly 40% of secondary students were girls. Now a month after the Taliban takeover, the Taliban has curbed much of women’s rights and freedoms. Women public servants are told to stay home until further notice, nurseries in government buildings are closed, and those who protest are met with violence. Reportedly, house-to-house searches are still ongoing, searching for women leaders as well as those officials and activists who opposed the Taliban.

Under the government of the past 20 years, Afghan women were guaranteed equal rights under the Constitution of Afghanistan, and although not always perfect in practice, they had access to justice, education, health services, and employment opportunities. Women were 25% of the parliament and served as department heads (secretaries), deputies, advisors, and so on. Those guarantees are no longer valid as the Taliban announced that women cannot serve in high-ranking jobs.

Soon after the collapse of the previous government, private universities reopened with a Taliban order to segregate classes by gender, mandating that male and female students must enter from different entrances, prohibiting any interaction between male and female students. Public universities remain shut and it is likely that women will not be allowed to attend, or they will be segregated with an imposed uniform to conform with the Taliban view of covering (hijab) for women.

Taliban statement, Sep. 17, 2021/ World Bank, Sep. 20, 2020

The Taliban’s Cabinet is Mostly Men, Many of Whom Are on Sanctions or Terror Lists

Last week, after much anticipation, the Taliban announced a new government that does not include women or minorities, and a majority – 17 — of them are either on sanctions or terror lists. The list does not include anyone from another political party. It is yet another blatant move by the Taliban, breaking their promise of inclusivity and diversity.

In this provisional government of the Taliban, posts are given to long-time leaders of the group and among them, one man, Sirajuddin Haqqani, stands out in particular. Haqqani, the appointed new interior minister is a close ally of Al-Qaeda, is a man wanted by the FBI, with a $10 million dollar bounty on his head. Haqqani is also the leader of the notorious Haqqani network, founded by his father. The acting defense minister, Mullah Yakub, is the son of the Taliban’s founding member.

The Women’s Affairs Ministry did not make it to the list of the ministries of the Taliban, leading many to believe it will be terminated. Instead, the Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and Vice made it to the list. This ministry existed during the Taliban regime in the 1990s, which was infamous for forcing people to follow the edicts of the Taliban, ensures that the strictest interpretation of Sharia is implemented on the people.

Since the takeover on August 15th, the situation remains fluid and people are fearful for their lives. The Taliban ordered women to stay at home until further notice and as students returned to universities, they found that their classes were segregated by gender. Women are not allowed to serve in higher levels in the government and will not be allowed to play the kind of sports that “exposes” their bodies. Music has been banned in public spaces, journalists are being arrested and beaten, and the group routinely engaged in surveillance activities as well as cut internet services in certain parts of Kabul.

As the situation evolves daily, it is clear that the prospects are looking bleak for the Afghan people, especially, for the youth and women. Their hard-won rights, freedoms, gains of the past 20 years are in danger, and their access to opportunities has been constrained. What comes next is uncertain, but what is certain for now is that life has become difficult.

Afghan women are protesting in front of their oppressors and at gun points

Hours after the Taliban disrupted women’s protest at gun points in Kabul today, the group announced their provisional government that does not include women. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs did not appear on their list of ministries and is most likely to be abolished. A new ministry was added to the list – the Ministry of Virtue and Vice that the Taliban had during their ruling in the 1990s which was notorious for enforcing their edicts on the people. 

Since the Taliban takeover of the government, Taliban announced that women cannot work in high ranking posts in the new government, women as civil servants were ordered to stay home until further notice, and co-education has been banned in public and private universities. The universities opened yesterday with classes segregated by gender. Just like when the Taliban was in power in the 1990s, this time as they were taking each district and province, they banned music once again as well. 

Despite the fluid and uncertain situation and at grave risks to their lives, Afghan women have held protests and marches for several days starting in Herat, Kabul, and today expanding to Mazar-e-Sharif in the north of the country too. Afghan women are demanding their equal rights be preserved, their achievements of the past 20 years be built upon, and that without women’s meaningful participation, the government cannot function. 

Protesters are chanting for “freedom” and “death to the Taliban”

Today, another massive protest was held in Kabul against Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan after the head of Pakistani intelligence agency visited Kabul to meet with the Taliban leadership. According to different accounts of individuals from the protest, thousands of women demonstrated against the visit and interference of Pakistan in Afghanistan. Some Afghan men joined the march to the embassy of Pakistan as well. Heavily armed Taliban broke up the demonstration today as well by shooting their guns into the air. 

Similarly in Kabul, as women marched towards the Presidential Palace and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in their protest on September 4th, Taliban fired their guns into the air, beating up women and injuring one on her fore head. Taliban also used tear gas against the protesters. Some women protestors shared videos in which women were not allowed by the Taliban to join the protests. They were guarded at a parking lot by the Taliban. 

Unlike the 1990s, the Taliban faces a resolute, better connected, and more informed public, especially the women who are determined to continue to fight for their rights. On September 4, in one of the first protests, Taliban whipped and lashed women by an electric cord as they were marching on the streets of Kabul, demanding representation and equal rights. The next day the women were out marching again. The barbarity of flogging people in public appears to be the same, as it was in the 1990s. 

Afghan men and women as well as those outside the country have been amazed at the courage of Afghan women protesting in the face of heavily armed Taliban forces. Many social media accounts applaud the bravery of Afghan women for standing up for their rights at a time when they are told to stay put in their homes. During this difficult transition, one that many still wish it was simply a bad dream, the Afghan women have shown that they will not stay silent and will continue to demand their rights. 

While life remains uncertain and difficult for all Afghans, especially women as they once again fight for their existence, it is clear for now that Afghan women are determined, on their own, to continue their fight to march forward and not go back to a time when they were confined to their homes, with no rights to education, employment or political representation.

Feminist and Human Rights Groups to Biden and Harris: Do Not Recognize Taliban Regime and Honor U.S. Commitments to Aid Afghan Women and Girls

Washington, DC—The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) has delivered a letter co-signed by 85 women and human rights activists, leaders, and organizations to President Biden and Vice President Harris asking that they swiftly act to protect the women and girls of Afghanistan whose lives are now at risk as the Taliban takes control of the country.

The letter states: “[W]e implore your administration not to agree to a deal that includes recognition and support of a Taliban regime. The U.S. and U.N. previously refused to recognize the Taliban based on their brutal disregard of human rights, especially of women and girls. Any deal by the United States that would include recognition and support of the Taliban regime would be a reversal of U.S. commitments that were made to the Afghan people, especially women and girls, and would undermine commitments by the U.S and your administration to human rights globally and the Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017.

“Further, we implore you to take immediate action to save the lives of Afghan women’s rights and human rights leaders and advocates who have selflessly and courageously worked at great risk to advance the rights of women and girls and are now being targeted by the Taliban. We ask for the evacuation of these leaders and Afghan women students who have secured commitments at universities here to pursue their education. Safe passage to the United States must be provided immediately.”

Ellie Smeal, president of the FMF, issued the following statement: “The United States must not abandon Afghan women and girls. The United States cannot recognize a regime that has taken away basic human rights from women and girls and has shown with their current behavior that they plan to continue these brutal tactics. Feminist and Human Rights leaders implore President Biden and Vice President Harris to prioritize the evacuation of Afghan women leaders and activists, as well as human rights defenders whose lives are at risk as the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan. The Taliban is going to the homes of women’s leaders, and we fear they are being targeted for reprisal. The United States cannot abandon them when their lives are at stake.

The time to act is now:  women’s rights activists and journalists have been murdered, women and girls are being forced into sexual slavery with Taliban soldiers, and women and girls are forced to stay in their homes and punished for cell phone use. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan citizens, including children, are attempting to flee during a historic drought, the Coronavirus pandemic, and widespread hunger. The United States must prioritize the plight of Afghan women and girls and provide humanitarian aid immediately.”

Alongside FMF president Ellie Smeal, signatories of the letter include famed activist and labor organizer Dolores Huerta, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Cecile Richards, co-founder of Supermajority and former president of Planned Parenthood, Carol Jenkins, president of the ERA Coalition, feminist activist Gloria Steinem, Christian Nunes, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Marcela Howell, president & CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, former senator Russ Feingold, Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, Barbara Arnwine, president of the Transformative Justice Coalition, E. Faye Williams, PhD, president of the National Congress of Black Women.

The letter and full list of signatories can be found here.

Friends of Afghanistan Urge NATO and EU to Continue Support for Afghanistan

In a letter signed by prominent leaders and individuals worldwide, friends and supporters of Afghanistan urged NATO and the European Union that as U.S. and NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, “we must not abandon the Afghan people and their democratic republic.”

The letter signed by former foreign ministers, former ambassadors to Afghanistan, diplomats, along with a range of civil society groups and leaders states that while NATO armed forces are leaving Afghanistan, “it is the obligation of all NATO and European countries to continue to strongly stand by our Afghan partners.” The letter urges NATO and the EU to continue the financial support to the Afghan state, protect the human rights of Afghan women and girls, and continue to provide “robust financial” support to the Afghan national security forces.

The letter calls for support in six major areas, including to protecting women’s rights and human rights and providing a robust and sustainable support to the Afghan state. It asks to reaffirm robust financial support to the Afghan national security forces, continue development assistance to key Afghan institutions, support a strong UN role in the Intra-Afghan peace talks, and reaffirm support to civil society and human rights groups.

The endorsees remind NATO and the European Union that the world has a “responsibility” to Afghanistan and that it “must come together in their support to the Afghan National Security Forces who are fighting to protect Afghan lives from terrorists as well as work towards our shared security interests.”

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation signed the letter, reiterating the importance of continued support to Afghanistan at this critical moment.

“We cannot stop our support and funding to the Afghan people, especially to the women and girls of Afghanistan. They need our assistance now more than ever as they try to defend their country and protect their people,” she said. Smeal has advocated for the human rights of Afghan women and girls for 25 years and believes that despite many challenges, “the Afghan people, especially women and girls, have achieved amazing gains in education, employment, leadership, health care and provide hope for an equal and prosperous society. Their tremendous efforts deserve our support.”

The U.S. has pledged to continue to provide support for the Afghan people, including Afghan women, girls, and minorities through development and humanitarian aid as well as the continued provision of security assistance to support Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. While such support and messaging from allies and partners is critical, it is important to stand with Afghanistan for years to come.

The letter highlights the current high levels of violence perpetrated by the Taliban and their affiliates “who are using violence to silence and oppress the Afghan people.” For over a year, the Taliban offensive attacks have been at its peak, targeting school girls, women leaders, journalists, judges, doctors, charity workers, teachers, government officials, minorities and even religious scholars.

The letter states that the “Afghan people, just as our other allies, deserve peace, justice, liberty and dignity” and that the “killing and destruction of the people and institutions that uphold our shared values is not only a threat to the Afghan people who have been our allies for twenty years, but also to our core principles, legitimacy and global security.”

Biden Pledges Support to Afghanistan Despite the US Troop Withdrawal

On June 25th in a state visit by the president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, President Biden pledged to continue to support Afghanistan, assuring the Afghan delegation that the United States will “maintain their military, as well as economic and political support.”

While vowing to continue the support to the Afghan people, President Biden also stressed that “Afghans are going to have to decide their future.” Biden stressed that the senseless killing of Afghans must stop but admitted that it is “going to be very difficult.”

The Afghan president and its delegation’s trip comes at a crucial time as U.S. and NATO troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan. The country is facing unprecedented levels of violence by the Taliban, ISIS, Al-Qaeda and their affiliates, targeting civilians, infrastructure and leaders. During a two day-visit, the Afghan delegation including four prominent Afghan women leaders, also met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.

Of the four women, Fatima Gailani, former head of the Afghan Red Crescent and Habiba Sarabi, former governor of Bamiyan province also met with the Democratic Women’s Caucus. In a press release by the Caucus, the leadership stated that they are aware of the difficult reality in Afghanistan right now and reiterated their support to women and girls in Afghanistan.

“We are committed to continuing to work with our President to provide humanitarian and security assistance to the Afghan people so that women and girls have adequate access to education, health care, economic security, and opportunity.” The Caucus leadership, Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said that advancing the human rights of Afghan women and girls is “vital to making our world a more equitable and safe place for all.” 

Fatima Gailani and Habiba Sarabi have been negotiating on behalf of the Afghan government with the Taliban since September of 2020. Two other women leaders who accompanied Ashraf Ghani and the delegation were Shaharzad Akbar, Chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and Adela Raz, the Afghan Ambassador to the United Nations.

Habiba Sarabi and Fatima Gailani have been vocal on protecting the human rights of women and minorities and that these rights are non-negotiable. The women negotiators are firm in their belief that human rights must be protected and a democratic system of one-person-one-vote should remain to ensure equality in the country. Gailani and Sarabi told Members of the Democratic Women’s Caucus the Afghanistan-US relationship is important and that they hope members of Congress “will continue to speak for the human rights of our people, democracy in our country and the values and principles that we all share as humans.”

The Afghan delegation came to DC to ask for a continued U.S. support and partnership with the Afghan state to fight terrorism and defend human rights and democracy. A key member of the delegation, Abdullah Abdullah, who chairs the High Council for Peace in Afghanistan, met with President Biden as well. He emphasized that Al- Qaeda and other terrorist groups continue to be a threat to the security of the world. In an interview with the Associated Press, Abdullah said, “If Afghanistan is abandoned completely, without support, without engagement, there’s a danger that Afghanistan can turn once again into a haven for terrorist groups.”

Early this month, in a conversation with NPR reporter Renee Montagne the Afghan women negotiators reiterated that women have achieved a great deal over the past 20 years and do not want to go back to the time when they had no rights under the Taliban. Fatima Gailani, one of the women negotiators as well as a member of the delegation who visited DC told Montagne that it is important for the Taliban to understand that this is not the Afghanistan of 1990s when they ruled. “This is the Afghanistan where everyone is a part of it. Every ethnic group, every gender, every language, every sect in Islam—we are all together.”

Taliban Responsible for Great Majority of Attacks on Afghans, Says the U.N.

Signs of the Taliban reducing violence and committing to genuine and serious peace talks are far from sight, suggests a new report by the U.N. sounding the alarm that “unprecedented” level of violence from 2020 has carried onto 2021 and is likely to increase more this year. According to the report, the group “continues to strengthen its military position as leverage.”

According to the report, 2020 was the “most violent year ever recorded” by the U.N. in Afghanistan and attacks have increased 60 percent in the first three months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. The group uses violence as their main leverage in the peace talks, claims victory for defeating the U.S. forces in Afghanistan and views the elected government of Afghanistan a “puppet” of the West. 

The U.N. report highlights an important point: Violence has been unprecedented and the Taliban are behind a great majority of the attacks on the people. As the report suggests, these attacks “appear to be undertaken with the objective of weakening the capacity of the government and intimidating civil society.” Members of civil society, journalists and women professionals have been at the top of these attacks, creating panic and fear in the Afghan civil society.

“The Taliban’s messaging remains uncompromising, and it shows no sign of reducing the level of violence in Afghanistan to facilitate peace negotiations with the government of Afghanistan and other Afghan stakeholders,” reads the U.N. report.

The report affirms the Taliban remains close to Al-Qaeda and that it will return “to power by force if necessary.” It offers a grim view for the Afghan people post U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan as well. The report compiled by the U.N. Monitoring Team covers a period of between May 2020 and April 2021, when the Taliban had entered an agreement with the U.S. in which they promised to cut their ties with Al-Qaeda, engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and reduce violence. According to the U.N. report, the Taliban has violated all of the above.

Over the past year since the intra-Afghan talks begin in September, violence against the Afghan people has been at the highest level and although major blasts have been less, the tactics to intimidate and kill people have changed. Targeted assassinations have been at the highest level—against members of civil society, judges, doctors, students, on- and off- duty public servants, and journalists.

In the last few years, religious scholars who are vocal critics against Taliban terrorism and leaders of government-initiated religious councils have been on the hit list as well. In the month of June alone, a woman journalist, Mina Khairi, her mother and sister, as well as a few other civilians were murdered in Kabul. The next day, a religious scholar was murdered in Herat, the west of Afghanistan. Following that attack, in another province, Badghis, a roadside bomb struck a passenger bus and killed 12 of them; four women and three children were among the dead.

In May, a girls’ school was targeted in which 90 people were killed—a majority of them school girls between the ages of 11 and 17. The school is located in a Hazara and Shia majority part of Kabul which has experienced similar major attacks in the past.

This report, along with experts, warn the Taliban has not changed; their ambition to return to power holds stronger than ever; the group has remained vague about human rights, women’s rights and the structure of government; continues to terrorize people and targets ethnic and religious minorities; and the production and trafficking of poppy remains their “largest single source of income.”

Even still, the U.S. and NATO forces are set to withdraw unconditionally by this summer. The high level of violence, an emboldened Taliban by the U.S., and the ongoing uncertainty around the peace talks have created an environment of panic and distress among the Afghan people, particularly Afghan women.


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