The Taliban’s Continued Efforts to Erase Women from Afghan Society
Author: Dr. Richard Quinlan
January 31, 2023
In August 2021, images emerged of American C-17 military planes filled to capacity with Afghan citizens fleeing from the impending reestablishment of Taliban rule. One flight included 640 people, sitting shoulder to shoulder, expressions of distress, exhaustion, and relief washed across their faces. Those who could escape their country tried in vain to do so, with dozens even desperately attempting to hold on to the wings of departing military planes. The scenes from the Kabul airport were shocking and disconcerting as they revealed the terrifying fear felt by so many in Afghanistan. After twenty years of a significant American presence, the United States would no longer be available to keep the Taliban and their extremist views at bay. In the scant time since America’s departure, the Taliban has not only recouped all the power they lost in the U.S. invasion launched in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks, but have embraced a radicalism that places the lives of women and girls at risk. Despite promises that the “new” Taliban would be more progressive and less draconian than its predecessor, the situation in Afghanistan is calamitous for all female citizens and is rapidly approaching critical mass. As the world has turned its collective eyes away from Afghanistan, the Taliban has taken away women’s opportunities for employment, education, and even health care. The suffering of Afghan women cannot become a global oversight; world leaders must demand changes and refuse to recognize any legitimacy of Taliban rule until tangible reforms are implemented.
In his remarks to the American public on August 31st, President Joe Biden discussed at length his decision to leave Afghanistan. Citing increased competition with China and Russia, along with his belief that America’s safety is not enhanced by continuing a presence in Afghanistan, the president also pledged that America will “learn from our mistakes” in Afghanistan.  Sadly, that statement has not materialized into any tangible results; Afghanistan is seemingly nowhere to be on the American conscious or list of foreign policy concerns, and as America attempts to distance itself from the two-decades’ long commitment to Afghanistan, the Taliban meticulously deconstructs Afghan society with women as the primary victims.
Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada is the current leader of the Taliban, and while rarely seen, he offered a strong statement in July 2022, warning western nations that Afghanistan, and the Taliban specifically, “Have our own decisions”.  These decisions have included isolating Afghan women and establishing a bleak future for girls. To mark the one-year anniversary of the Taliban return to power, United Nations Women released a comprehensive report chronicling the various steps taken by the Taliban to minimize the lives of women and silence their voices.  Since their reemergence as the Taliban government, the Taliban has banned girls from attending school after sixth grade, demand that women cover their faces at all times while outside, cannot travel without a male escort, cannot visit parks or gyms, and must remain at home unless absolutely necessary.  In December 2022, the Taliban issued a decree that barred any Afghan women from working in NGOs (non-governmental organizations), which may result in the deaths of untold numbers of its population. This action will limit the ability for NGOs to bring food, medicine, and other vital necessities to Afghan women, many of whom need such assistance to survive.  The short-sightedness of this new rule is staggering, as it reveals a Taliban that both devalues the lives of women and does not care if women die across their nation through their decisions. Only Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia have recognized the Taliban as an official government, but not recognizing the Taliban is not enough; merely pretending that a radical government does not exist will not prevent that government from abusing its authority. The remaining nations of the world must speak with one voice and require the Afghan government to adhere to humanitarian demands that ensure the livelihood and safety of all citizens. However, such a concerted effort has not been heard, and the Taliban has only continued to enact archaic and devastating laws.
The latest debilitating decree from the Taliban has ordered that women may only see female doctors.  The Taliban is issuing death sentences to women across their country, for where is a woman supposed to go for medical care if there are no female doctors in the area in which they live? Additionally, if women are banned from any form of higher education, there will be no future female Afghan doctors. Combine these facts with the recent ban on women in NGOs, and the future for women in Afghanistan does not just seem desolate but non-existent.
There is clearly no logic to the Taliban’s misapplication of Sharia law, but the Taliban is not interested in pursuing rational paths; rather, the group seems hellbent on consolidating power and rebuking any western influence, even at the expense of the lives of their women. What is transpiring in Afghanistan is a disgrace and an assault upon all forms of human dignity; however, the women in Afghanistan are continuing to find covert ways to rebel against this subjugation. Yet, without a unified and unrelenting stance by the global community, this failed state will continue to wither under the yoke of Taliban oppression.