The Taliban & Afghan Women

The Taliban, an extremist militia, seized control first of Herat (1994) and then Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, on September 27, 1996 and violently plunged Afghanistan into a brutal state of totalitarian dictatorship and gender apartheid in which women and girls were stripped of their basic human rights.

The Elimination of Women’s Rights

Upon seizing power, the Taliban regime instituted a system of gender apartheid effectively thrusting the women of Afghanistan into a state of virtual house arrest. Under Taliban rule women were stripped of all human rights – their work, visibility, opportunity for education, voice, healthcare, and mobility. When they took control in 1996, the Taliban initially imposed strict edicts that:

  • Banished women from the workforce
  • Closed schools to girls and women and expelled women from universities
  • Prohibited women from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative
  • Ordered the publicly visible windows of women’s houses painted black and forced women to wear the burqa (or chadari) – which completely shrouds the body, leaving only a small mesh-covered opening through which to see
  • Prohibited women and girls from being examined by male physicians while at the same time prohibited female doctors and nurses from working

Women were brutally beaten, publicly flogged, and killed for violating Taliban decrees. Even after international condemnation, the Taliban made only slight changes. Some say it was progress when the Taliban allowed a few women doctors and nurses to work, even while hospitals still had segregated wards for women. In Kabul and other cities, a few home schools for girls operated in secret. In addition, women who conducted home schools were risking their lives or a severe beating.

Taliban Reality for Women and Girls

  • A woman who defied Taliban orders by running a home school for girls was killed in front of her family and friends.
  • A woman caught trying to flee Afghanistan with a man not related to her was stoned to death for adultery.
  • An elderly woman was brutally beaten with a metal cable until her leg was broken because her ankle was accidentally showing from underneath her burqa.
  • Women and girls died of curable ailments because male doctors were not allowed to treat them.
  • Two women accused of prostitution were publicly hung.

Taliban Law Is In Opposition To Islam

Women in Afghanistan were educated and employed prior to the Taliban control, especially in the capital city Kabul and other major cities across the country. For example, 50% of the students and 60% of the teachers at Kabul University were women. In addition 70% of school teachers, 50% of civilian government workers, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women.

The Taliban claimed to follow a pure, fundamentalist Islamic ideology, yet the oppression they perpetrated against women had no basis in Islam. Within Islam, women are allowed to earn and control their own money, and to participate in public life. The 55-member Organization of Islamic Conference refused to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s official government. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, regarded by many as an ultraconservative organization, denounced the Taliban’s decrees.

Who are the Taliban?

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980’s the United States through a CIA covert operation based in Pakistan supplied billions of dollars to support insurgent militia forces called the mujahideen (soldiers of God). Following the Soviets’ withdrawal in 1989, factions of the mujahideen fell into a civil war and in 1994, the Taliban emerged as a dominant force.

The Taliban is comprised of young men and boys of Afghan descent who had hardly lived in Afghan society. They were raised in refugee camps and trained in ultraconservative religious schools (madrassas) in Pakistan. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates were the only countries that granted the Taliban regime of Afghanistan official recognition.

In addition, thousands of Pakistanis and hundreds or Arabs fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan was the primary source of support to the Taliban, supplying military aid and personnel; Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and known terrorist organizations provided the Taliban with financial support. Additionally, Afghanistan is and was under the Taliban the world’s largest producer of opium and a major drug-processing center; almost all areas of poppy cultivation are occupied by the Taliban. But perhaps the biggest potential for financial support for the Taliban in Afghanistan was to be royalties for an oil/gas pipeline to be built from the Caspian Sea region through Afghanistan to a port in Pakistan.

End of Taliban Rule in Afghanistan and Re-Emergence

The 2001 defeat of the Taliban liberated all Afghans from a brutal regime. It was especially a pivotal moment for Afghan women and girls from the regime’s draconian decrees. The world witnessed reports of women in Mazar-e-Sharif, Kabul, and other cities going into the streets without male relatives and discarding their burqas–actions that would have garnered brutal punishments under the Taliban. Some 38% of the women have returned to work, 35% of the school children are girls, universities are again open to women. See current conditions for women and girls in section.

After its defeat in 2001, a large number of Taliban regrouped in Peshawar and the northwest frontier areas of Pakistan. With inadequate security forces and U.S. attention shifted to Iraq, by 2008, the Taliban insurgents had regained control over much of the Southern region of Afghanistan, especially Kandahar and Helmand provinces, the largest area of poppy cultivation in the world. In 2009, the Obama Administration, however, announced a shift in focus, an increase of both military forces and civilian development funding. The U.S. also announced in 2009 that its top priorities in Afghanistan were security and development for Afghans.

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