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  • Human Rights Research Center

“When you live in this society now, it can kill you before you actually die”: The Second, Current Takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban

June 27, 2024


Note: This is the fifth article in a series that covers girls’ education and gender apartheid in Afghanistan. You can read the first, second, third, and fourth articles here.


The Taliban has implemented numerous decrees to enforce gender apartheid, which is described as the “erasure of the humanity of women” in which “every aspect of female existence is controlled and scrutinized.” One decree requiring a mahram, male escort, for women to leave the house is technically for journeys over 72 kilometers. But in practice, women can be stopped and detained by the Taliban if they leave their homes alone for even short journeys. In interviews with Amnesty International, Afghan women and girls spoke about their life under Taliban rule, many of them choosing to remain anonymous because there is a danger if you choose to speak out: “When you live in this society now, it can kill you before you actually die.” Years of war have left many women widows and fewer men alive to be mahrams, making this rule both unjust and impractical. The fathers and brothers left also have jobs that they cannot afford to miss to usher their sisters and mothers around. A 16-year-old high schooler in Afghanistan described the mahram rule as follows: “We are in cages. The Taliban made Afghanistan a prison for all Afghan women.” Similar to the lockdown much of the world experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, women in Afghanistan are trapped in a perpetual relegation to the home. Since the Taliban has re-taken Afghanistan, there is a feeling of going backward in time after so much hard work to improve the situation for women and girls.


Another way the Taliban is rendering women invisible is by changing school curriculums to reflect their sexist ideology and scrubbing textbooks clean of any mention of women’s rights. This is dangerous because these messages will then be conveyed to young, impressionable children who will then likely start to share the Taliban’s views. Schools are one of the most powerful socializing factors that affect youth and young adults’ views of the world. Specifically, textbooks can influence students’ perceptions of gender inequality or equality and the role of women in society. English textbooks for high schoolers in Afghanistan include gender-unequal ideas in what is known as the hidden curriculum, the curriculum that is not explicitly taught but is transmitted through cultural norms and values. When women are underrepresented and perform stereotypical domestic roles in textbooks, students internalize the view that men are superior to women. When we consider that girls are currently banned from high schools, we recognize that boys are exposed to these ideas and then can subjugate the women in their lives to patriarchal systems of power and oppression. Some textbooks go as far as to have zero mentions of women at all. Women made up 27% of the Afghan Parliament in 2021, which was just one percentage point short of the proportion of women in the United States Congress the same year. Afghanistan’s population is around 22,545,496 (51.7%) male and around 21,035,367 (48.3%) female, a nearly even split. These statistics make female underrepresentation and omission from learning materials even more outlandish and unjust.


Comparative Mentions of Females and Males in English Language Textbooks Used in Afghan Schools

Taliban 2.0 has led to devastating economic effects for civilians in Afghanistan reminiscent of the late 1990s. The West’s freezing of Afghanistan’s assets in response to the Taliban caused the economy to collapse. While sanctions can be a useful negotiation tool, they also tend to worsen the quality of life for residents and reduce their access to necessary resources. In the immediate aftermath of the coup, Afghanistan lost approximately 8 billion U.S. dollars in aid each year. Overall, the ban on girls’ education will ruin the economy even further because many of the girls who would have grown up and worked will not be able to. Brain drain, a phenomenon in which the most skilled and educated workers leave a country, is also bound to happen as those who can afford to leave do so.


The World Food Program reports that a staggering 15.3 million civilians are suffering from food insecurity, while 2.8 million people are suffering from what is considered emergency-level food insecurity. Nearly half of children younger than five years old are food insecure. The dire economic situation has led to a heartbreaking pattern in which parents marry off their young daughters to provide for their children because they do not see a future for girls without the opportunity to attend secondary school and university. A Taliban spokesperson has even said girls can be ready for marriage once they reach puberty. We must take action to ensure Afghan girls can go to school instead of being married off as child brides.


 

Glossary


  • Coup- an overthrow of a country’s government by an insurgent group that then takes power.

  • Food Insecurity- this occurs when people do not have adequate access to food and may not know when their next meal will be.

  • Gender Apartheid- the segregation of the genders, male and female, instituted in public life through laws. 

  • The Hidden Curriculum- the curriculum that is not explicitly taught in schools but is transmitted through cultural norms and values.

  • Patriarchal- a patriarchal society is one in which men are in control and women are often viewed as inferior and given less freedom than their male counterparts.

  • Sanctions- the practice of imposing restrictions on trade and economic aid in response to a country’s human rights violations or violations of international law.

  • Subjugate- to bring people under rule and limit their freedoms, either entirely or somewhat.

  • The Taliban- a fundamentalist militia organization that rules parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, enforcing extremist policies that relegate women and girls to the home.


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