Afghan women in Burqa.
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Afghanistan: Taliban Orders Head-to-Toe Coverings for Women in Public Further Defying Human Rights

What do women’s rights look like under Taliban rule?

Taliban order women to wear a mandatory Islamic face veil and only leave home if strictly necessary

On the 7th of May 2022, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) stated deep concern in response to a recent Taliban announcement. The Taliban held that women should only leave their homes in cases of necessity. In addition, Afghan women must wear head-to-toe burqas while only showing their eyes. The traditional burqa allows women to see only through a small grille while the niqab covers the face but not the eyes. The majority of Afghan women wear some form of hijab. However, many women living in major cities only cover their hair. This is a huge lifestyle change for millions of Afghan women. UNAMA has held that this decree is not a recommendation but a formal directive. These latest developments evoke similar restrictions from the Taliban’s previous rule between 1996 and 2001. Women’s rights in Afghanistan changed fundamentally in August 2021 when the Taliban took power.

Caption: Tweet by UNAMA News related to a recent announcement by the Taliban.

Taliban enforce a cruel twist

The Taliban enforce a cruel twist as punishment for women who refuse to comply with these rules. Any breaches will result in male relatives being liable for fines and imprisonment. In their statement, UNAMA held that “this decision contradicts numerous assurances regarding respect for and protection of all Afghans’ human rights, including those of women and girls, that had been provided to the international community by Taliban representatives during discussions and negotiations over the past decade”.

“The Taliban want to erase girls and women from all public life in Afghanistan – to keep girls out of school and women out of work, to deny them the ability to travel without a male family member, and to force them to cover their faces and bodies completely”

Malala Yousafzai – Pakistani female activist and the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Taliban insist women must be accompanied by a male relative when in public

Taliban authorities actively prevent women from upholding their most basic rights. Therefore, women can’t use public transport unless accompanied by a male relative (mahram). Women can’t leave their houses without a male relative. Furthermore, women can only leave home under circumstances of necessity, ultimately depriving them of their personal liberty. Taliban officials have made claims to the contrary regarding their attitude towards women. The authorities deny these restrictions on women as they seek and rely on international recognition.

Taliban do not allow girls above the 6th grade to attend school

On March 24th 2022, girls were expected to return to school after the Afghan holiday. However, the Taliban once again postponed the school return for girls attending above the sixth grade. Teenage girls in Afghanistan have now been denied their right to an education for 236 days.

A young woman protesting against the Taliban for education rights for Afghanistan women.
Caption: A young woman protests against the Taliban for education rights for Afghanistan women. Image obtained from South China Morning Post.

Originally when the Taliban took over power in Afghanistan, one of the first policy changes introduced prohibited girls from attending secondary level education. By 2021, the number of 10-year-old girls attending school had increased to an estimated 60%. However, by the time these girls had reached the age of 15, only 30% were still receiving an education. Additionally, Women could only attend university if classes were segregated by gender. Moreover, many girls and women fear gender-based violence, which often prevents them from receiving an education.

Afghans face an “avalanche of hunger and destitution” since the Taliban takeover

An estimated 98% of Afghans do not have enough to eat. 70% of families are forced to borrow food, pushing them deeper into an “avalanche of hunger and destitution”. The United Nations has held that the worsening humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has left over 20 million people in need of assistance. This represents 50% of the total Afghan population. Moreover, this figure is still lower than in Yemen where 23.4 million people – almost three-quarters of the population- need humanitarian assistance and protection.

Since the Taliban took power, the economy has collapsed, and the banking system has frozen. Human Rights Watch held that 75% of the previous government’s budget came from foreign donors. However, most of their aid was stopped once the Taliban seized power. Moreover, the prices of food, fuel and basic amenities have risen sharply, pushing the economy to the brink of collapse.

Afghan girls are increasingly at risk of child marriage

Afghanistan’s minimum age of marriage for girls is 15 years old, which is well below the internationally recommended standard of 18 years old. In recent years, an estimated one in three girls were forced into marriage before 18 years in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban took over in 2021, these statistics have increased dramatically. The risk of child marriage is high as a result of Afghanistan’s severe humanitarian crisis. Many families marry their children to increase the survival rate of other family members. The financial gain from these marriages helps to pay for food and shelter.

High rates of infant and maternal mortality

There is a severe shortage of health care workers and foreign funding. Women’s daily movement is often restricted. Consequently, Afghanistan is experiencing some of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates worldwide. An estimated 1,600 Afghan mothers died for every 100,000 live births in 2001. In 2018, the maternal death figure was reduced to 640 deaths. However, in September 2021, 80% of the country’s health care facilities were dysfunctional. This has pushed the maternal death rate back to what it was 15 years ago.

“After the change of goverment in August 2021, there was a significant drop [cumulative around 25%] in the availability and utilization of maternal health services”

Joy Rivaca Caminade, communication specialist with the World Health Organization in Afghanistan

What is next under Taliban rule?

Human rights activists have coined the latest restrictions on women as a “gender apartheid”. Consequently, these developments will likely set back the Taliban’s bid for international recognition and support as the country grapples with an economic crisis and widespread hunger.

Human Rights Watch has held that the Taliban should fully respect the human rights of all women and girls, ensuring gender equality. The United Nations and other international bodies, foreign governments and the UN special rapporteur on Afghanistan should pressure the Taliban to ensure they respect, protect and fulfil their international human rights obligations.

Laura Shorten
Laura Shorten is an Irish human rights consultant and researcher based in the Netherlands. Laura qualified with an International Bachelor of Social Sciences degree from University College Dublin. She majored in politics, international relations and social policy. Laura graduated from Technological University Dublin with a Postgraduate Diploma in Law. In 2021, she graduated with an Advanced LL.M in International Children’s Rights at Leiden University. Laura specializes in international law, children’s human rights, political science, international relations, middle eastern studies, refugee/migration law, gender studies, strategic litigation and global diplomacy. Laura has published various articles pertaining to international law and human rights violations occuring worldwide. Laura defended her Advanced Master’s Thesis entitled “An Analysis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Legal Framework in Protecting Children’s Right to Health and Right to Life in the Face of Climate Change”. This thesis is published on the Leiden University website under the Advanced Master of Law Theses for children's rights. Laura has previously worked for UNICEF Ireland, campaigning for children worldwide who are facing discrimination and living in war zones.

One Reply to “Afghanistan: Taliban Orders Head-to-Toe Coverings for Women in Public Further Defying Human Rights

  1. Really interesting article and very well written. I would love to read more of this style of human rights articles in the future. Well done!

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