Elimination of Women and Survival of Sharia
Since the Taliban’s reinstatement, Afghanistan has experienced significant regression and destruction. In a remarkably short period, the Taliban have dismantled the progress made by Afghans over the past twenty years, particularly in terms of women’s rights and freedoms. Currently, Afghanistan stands alone as the only country where women are officially deprived of fundamental rights such as education and employment. At the start of the 21st century, Afghan women began from scratch with the establishment of a republic government supported by the international community. They attended schools and universities, acquired skills in various sectors, and fulfilled their duties. However, with the Taliban’s resurgence, they were abruptly confined to their homes. Examining the situation of women and the swift removal of women from society by this misogynistic group over the past two years highlights the Taliban’s significant achievements in this area. Freedom has been stifled, women have been restricted to their homes, cities have been purged of women who do not conform to the Taliban’s framework, and girls attending schools and universities have vanished from sight. Even the length of women’s veils and the height of their shoe heels are meticulously regulated to ensure they do not challenge the Taliban’s beliefs.
The first indications of the Taliban’s misogyny became evident upon their entry into Kabul. As soon as they assumed power, they dismantled the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and replaced it with the Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which had previously oppressed women during the first five years of the Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan. Subsequently, the Taliban began issuing decrees that directly targeted women’s bodies and actions, clearly illustrating their intent to systematically erase women from society. Guided by their tribal values and religious beliefs, the Taliban have excluded women from all spheres of life. In the following discussion, the author explores how the Taliban have marginalized women from society based on religious justifications in order to preserve their Afghan-Islamic ideals.
In August 2021, the Taliban deemed women’s sports “unnecessary and inappropriate,” thereby banning all sports activities for women, including those who had excelled during the republic government. According to the Taliban, women’s participation in sports is deemed impermissible under Sharia law.
Over the past 20 years, Afghanistan had made significant strides in the field of education. Prior to the Taliban’s rise to power, girls had the right to education in all provinces, except those under the control of this group. However, following August 2021 and the conclusion of the summer break, only boys’ schools reopened their doors. The Taliban’s decree at that time solely mentioned the resumption of boys’ classes, while prohibiting girls from receiving an education until “further notice and the provision of suitable conditions.”
For the past two years, the preparation of conditions has been a primary justification for the ongoing prohibition of girls’ education. Initially, the Taliban stated their intention to introduce a “Sharia dress” plan for girls. However, despite recently unveiling the color and design of school uniforms, they have remained silent regarding the reopening of secondary schools and high schools for girls.
The Taliban have issued over 20 written and oral decrees concerning girls’ education, each imposing further restrictions than the previous ones. When the Taliban banned education for girls beyond the sixth grade, they implemented gender segregation in universities. Girls and boys attended separate shifts in public universities, while private universities introduced a “Sharia curtain.” In April 2021, the Taliban announced that women reporters and presenters must cover their faces on television, and the broadcasting of programs featuring women was prohibited.
Travel restrictions have also been imposed by the Taliban during this time. Women are forbidden from traveling alone or without a male companion. To enforce these restrictions, the Taliban ordered taxi drivers not to pick up women without male companions, threatening punishment for non-compliance.
Furthermore, the Taliban issued a nine-article order making hijab mandatory for women, requiring them to completely cover their faces. According to the Taliban, the burqa represents the best example of hijab, symbolizing “Afghani” culture. They also warned that failure to comply with hijab regulations would result in punishment for the male family members of the women. Women were also prohibited from visiting public baths and recreation centers. Restricting the choice of educational fields for girls, closing university doors, and blocking safe houses are clear manifestations of women’s oppression. Despite global reactions, the ban on women’s work in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and institutions has been enforced since August 2021.
Observing the Taliban’s treatment of women, it becomes evident that wherever the issue of women arises, it is accompanied by stringent restrictions. The question that arises is why the Taliban are particularly sensitive towards women. What has driven their hostility and relentless suppression of women? Beyond all other factors, a fundamental reason lies in the establishment and preservation of “Islamic Sharia.” The simplest answer to why the Taliban implement their misogynistic policies is their aim to establish Islamic Sharia and adhere to Afghan traditions.
Since their formation in 1994, the Taliban have pursued a policy grounded in Islam. They have relied on an extreme interpretation of Islam to garner support from the masses. In their quest to “strengthen Sharia” and establish an “Islamic system,” they resorted to wearing suicide vests and carried out bombings on streets, schools, mosques, and maternity hospitals. These acts were aimed at advancing their vision of an “Islamic system.”
The Taliban claim that their acts of murder, assassination, suicide, and explosions were carried out in the pursuit of establishing pure Islamic Sharia and “Omari justice.” They argue that the girls of Afghanistan, whom they consider their collective “honor,” should not fall victim to the influence of “Western culture.” Graffiti and billboards displayed in city centers serve as evidence of their motives. Phrases such as “My sister, I fought for your chastity” and “I shed my blood for your hijab” indicate that their efforts were aimed at “guiding women.” While this may not be their overarching goal, they have certainly recruited followers from the masses in the name of women.
Throughout the Doha peace talks, the Taliban consistently justified their stance on women’s rights within the framework of Sharia. However, they provided little clarification and remained ambiguous in their explanations. The specifics of this Sharia framework have yet to be defined. It appears that some have interpreted the Taliban’s embrace of jurisprudence and ijtihad as an attempt to synchronize their extreme mindset with modern elements and values. Nevertheless, over the past two years, the people of Afghanistan have experienced the Taliban’s “Sharia framework” not through reading about it in books, but in the harsh realities of their society. The Taliban have imposed a framework that restricts people’s freedom of action, where the Taliban’s weapons dictate the path to heaven and women are deprived of self-realization, self-actualization, and self-fulfillment. Women have been dehumanized, stripped of their rights and freedoms, and marginalized.
It is evident that the Taliban are willing to kill in order to establish “Islamic law.” Therefore, the elimination of women’s presence in society and their confinement to their homes to “uphold the law” does not appear unreasonable, impossible, or strange to them. In a meeting with the governors of the group in July 2022 in Kandahar, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Supreme Leader of the Taliban, emphasized their adherence to Sharia and rejection of man-made laws. He declared that all human laws contradict Islamic principles, effectively nullifying the constitution of the past two decades. The Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia is no secret to the people of Afghanistan, as it encompasses execution, suppression, war, and discrimination. Human lives hold no value for them, and they have no qualms about sacrificing thousands of people to establish their desired Sharia law. The de-feminization of society is seen as a necessary step in maintaining the Taliban’s desired version of Sharia.