In 1996, The Taliban emerged as the leader of Afghanistan after storming Kabul and overthrowing the Soviet-Backed president, Muhammed Najibullah. They rose to power under the promise of peace after many years of the country facing famine and drought. The Taliban stop the cultivation of poppies for the opium trade, crack down on crime and curtail the employment and education of women. They enforce a strict Sharia Law in the country which heavily suppresses women’s rights in the country. People were very surprised by this adaptation of Sharia Law as prior to the Taliban taking over, the country seemed to be getting more progressive.
Mohammed Daoud Khan was one of the first individuals to introduce progressive reforms to Afghanistan. When he rose to power in 1973, he implemented a new constitution that more modernized Afghanistan, but also gave women more opportunities than they had ever had prior. He passed reforms that would allow women to join the workforce and receive an education. There was a moment, at the fortieth anniversary of independence, Daoud Khan’s minister’s wives were all shown unveiled for the first time, and when religious leaders protested, he asked them to show where in the Quran it says they must be covered. He would then proceed to jail those that continued to protest his decision. Afghanistan gave women the right to vote in 1919, only a year after the UK gave women the right to vote. The country was slowly becoming progressive in the mid-1900s, but war and civil conflicts throughout the country in the 80s and 90s would almost reverse the progress that was made.
The Taliban would enforce Sharia Law on its people when they gained control. There are many restrictions that are imposed on women with the implementation of Sharia Law, such as divorce. Men are able to get a divorce without any questions, but a woman needs the man’s consent for the divorce, among proving that the request for divorce is justifiable. There are also extreme punishments for crimes in Afghanistan such as stonings, whippings, and executions. Women are also forced to completely cover themselves. Women would need a man with her that is from her family if she were to leave the home at all times. Women also were unable to receive healthcare from a man, and women not being allowed to seek education, made receiving proper care nearly impossible. During the Taliban’s reign, the future of women’s rights and participation in society was near nonexistent.
The Taliban were forced out of Afghanistan in 2001 by the United States and their allies. This would begin a period of rebuilding for Afghanistan. A new government and constitution were adopted in 2004, and the president was voted on by over 10 million Afghan citizens, women included. This new constitution would provide women with many rights that were stripped away by the Taliban. Following the Taliban regime, there were over 3,000 health facilities built, giving 87% of Afghan people access to healthcare within two hours. In 2003, less than 10% of girls were enrolled in primary school, but by 2017, that number had risen to 33%, which still has a way to go. Afghan women who attended secondary education went from 6% in 2003 to 39% in 2017. There was also an increase in female civil servants, with there being almost none during the Taliban reign. These benefits however are primarily available to more urban women, with a majority of rural women still living in what seems like Taliban rule.
This period of rebuilding and trying to fix what the Taliban had done would eventually come to an end. In August 2021, the Taliban would retake control of Kabul after 20 years. When they took control, they announced that they would be reinstating Sharia Law throughout the country. There are evergrowing concerns in the international community that many of the rights that these women have fought for, will be taken away again. In response to the Taliban reinstating Sharia Law and the oppressive restrictions on women, there have been many protests that have resulted in many people being detained and tortured. The women in Afghanistan want to be equals and have the same opportunities as the men, but, in what seems like a never-ending cycle, are battling once again to try and preserve their humanity and rights.
“Afghanistan: Women Protesters Detail Taliban Abuse.” Human Rights Watch, 20 Oct. 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/10/20/afghanistan-women-protesters-detail-taliban-abuse.
Allen, John R., and Vanda Felbab-Brown. “The Fate of Women’s Rights in Afghanistan.” Brookings, Brookings, 4 Mar. 2021, https://www.brookings.edu/essay/the-fate-of-womens-rights-in-afghanistan/.
“Daily Life and Social Customs.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/place/Afghanistan/Daily-life-and-social-customs.
“Daoud as Prime Minister 1953-63.” Afghanistan – Daoud as Prime Minister, 1953-63, http://countrystudies.us/afghanistan/26.htm.
Sharia and Gender Final Version. https://www.prio.org/download/publicationfile/2494/Backgrounder%204%20(Ahmad%20&%20Tank%202021)%20_%20Sharia%20Law%20and%20Women’s%20Rights.pdf.
Special R – Usip.org. https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/SR347-Sharia_and_Women%E2%80%99s_Rights_in_Afghanistan.pdf.
“Women in Afghanistan: The Back Story.” Amnesty International UK, https://www.amnesty.org.uk/womens-rights-afghanistan-history.
This is an extremely interesting and informative piece. Prior to reading your post, I felt that I had a decent background knowledge on the Taliban and women’s history in Afghanistan. Yet, there were still facts you brought in that I wasn’t aware of and were refreshing reminders of the extremity of the situation. For example, I was taken aback that “Afghanistan gave women the right to vote in 1919, only a year after the UK gave women the right to vote” and that “following the Taliban regime, there were over 3,000 health facilities built, giving 87% of Afghan people access to healthcare within two hours.” Both of which, I find astounding.
Your post leaves me extremely curious about the current conditions of Afghanistan. You mention that there are protests happening, which I would be interested in knowing more about, especially since I have seen virtually no news coverage pertaining to this situation. The Taliban has been back in Kabul for over a year–what has happened in that time, and why isn’t it more talked about?