Women in Afghanistan: An Uncertain Future

By Lucienne Bacon '22

Among the fears of women and girls when Afghanistan fell to the Taliban on
August 15, 2021, was what their future in schools or universities would look like. It is fear
rooted in experiences of the past: when the Taliban took control of the country in 1996, it
led an oppressive regime that barred women from either working or studying to gain an
education. This time around, the Taliban's chief spokesperson, Zibihullah Mujiahid, has insisted that conditions for women will be better, that they will be permitted to study, hold jobs, and participate in government (Engelbrecht and Hassan). However, nearly three months after the Taliban seized Kabul, for the majority of those enrolled in public institutions, none of this has happened.

Citing security concerns and the need to establish an Islamic environment and
segregated classrooms, the Taliban has prohibited women from returning to the workplace, and girls cannot return to secondary school, even though their brothers were allowed to do so in mid-September (Thomson Reuters Foundation). In addition, the Taliban recently appointed an all-male cabinet and the building that once housed the Women’s Affairs Ministry has been replaced by a ministry for the “propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice” (The Associated Press). The discrepancy between rhetoric and reality is similar in circumstance to when the Taliban was last in control. Speaking to this point, Heather Barr, the associate director of women’s rights at the Human Rights Watch, has said, “The explanation was that the security was not good, that they were waiting for security to be better, and then women would be able to have more freedom. . . . But of course in those years they were in power, that moment never arrived—and I can promise you Afghan women hearing
this today are thinking it will never arrive this time either.” 

The Taliban have said that they will govern issues such as women's rights and treatment of the media based on Islamic law. Between 1996 and 2001, they adhered to a strict interpretation of Sharia Law. Sharia is a set of precepts that are meant to function as a code of conduct for all Muslims to adhere to (BBC News). While the Quran, which is based on the stories of the Prophet Muhammad’s life, details a path to morality, Shariah
provides the specific set of laws to govern this journey. However, it leaves significant room for interpretation, which is why each government whose legal system is based on Shariah operates differently (Victor).

The Taliban’s interpretation of Islam dramatically restricts women’s rights and opportunities because it adheres to their radical version of the religion. This interpretation is arguably un-Islamic, because the basic tenets of Islam promote the acquisition of knowledge for both men and women. In fact, in various instances, the
Prophet Muhammad reportedly told his followers that “the acquistion of knowledge is binding on all Muslims, male and female” and that one should “seek knowledge, from the cradle to the grave” ("Does Islam Approve").  Using Islam as their excuse, the Taliban have employed violent insurrections to overthrow democratic principles and to overlay extremist laws on the Afghan populace. In truth, their mandates have little to do with Islam and much more to do with their desire to exert Fascist control (Taub).

At the moment, Afghan women can only hope that the present-day Taliban regime has evolved from their conservative predecessors. There is no indication, so far, that current leadership intends to support educational and working opportunities for women. However, the Taliban cannot sustain power and support the Afghan population without the assistance and the expertise that women provide to support the nation's
infrastructure, including medical care, food service, and education. The financial support of the international community is also necessary if the Taliban is to retain power. With sustained pressure from world leaders and international monetary policy, Taliban leadership may eventually have to compromise, allowing women to emerge
from this transition with some of the freedoms and opportunities they have worked so hard to achieve over the past twenty years.

By Millie Oke '24


By Millie Oke '24