Is There Any Hope for Women’s Political Participation in the Taliban Government?

The Taliban on Friday (September 17th) replaced the Ministry of Women’s Affairs with the Ministry of “Inviting, Guiding, and Ordering Good and Prohibiting Evil” (as literally translated). Under their new order, boys ‘schools reopened, but girls’ schools are still closed.

This move by the Taliban has caused a great deal of concern for citizens, specifically women. Women believe that the Taliban do not believe in women’s rights. Therefore, they seek to exclude women from the political and social spheres. They cite, for example, the replacement of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs with a ministry that restricts them. People believe that if the Taliban do not seek to ignore women’s rights, they should facilitate and/or ensure their political, cultural, and social participation.

“Women want to fight for their rights,” human rights defenders explain. The Taliban, on the other hand, do not provide a specific reason for dissolving the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

The Taliban have called on male employees to return to their posts. Meanwhile, female employees were not lucky enough to attend offices. Moreover, the Taliban Ministry of Education announced on Friday (September 17th) that all private and public schools will be open to male students only from Saturday (September 18th). The statement did not comment on the fate of the girls’ schools. However, the Taliban’s decision has raised many concerns. Many women have reacted to the decision, calling on the Taliban to recognize women’s rights.

Reacting to the dissolution of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Zarqa Yaftali, a women’s rights activist, says that the Taliban did not adhere to women’s rights and do not do what they say. Speaking to 8 Subh Daily, she confirms that the Taliban do not consider women as human beings.

According to her, the Ministry of Women was a specific authority for women in the country, and it used to help women access their rights. In addition, according to Ms. Yaftali, through the ministry, women felt politically involved and were in the cabinet. She is concerned that the dissolution of the Ministry of Women will harm women in various spheres.

Farzana Ehsas, another women’s rights activist, described the dissolution of the Ministry of Women as a disappointing move against women. She told 8 Subh that the Ministry of Women, although not an executive entity, was a specific address for women’s solidarity and participation in national processes. According to her, the ministry supported women and through it, women were raising their voices. However, Ms. Ehsas considers the dissolution of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs as a measure to prevent women from political participation. “This is where the elimination of women from critical spheres begins,” she adds. “First, the Ministry of Women will be removed and then women will be imprisoned at home forever.”

However, women’s rights advocates say it is dangerous if the Taliban pretend to have changed. According to Ms. Ehsas, women have now changed and will fight for their rights. However, after the fall of the previous government, women repeatedly protested for their rights. The protests failed apparently and the Taliban effectively dissolved the Ministry of Women.

Zahra Madadi, another supporter of women’s rights, does not consider the dissolution of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs acceptable. She told 8 Subh Daily that dissolving the ministry of women would ultimately mean ignoring their rights.

The Taliban, meanwhile, insist that they believe in women’s rights. A Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi told 8 Subh that another ministry would replace the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. However, he did not specify the reason for the dissolution of the ministry, but he says women are in the next government and are still working in some departments.

Meanwhile, Shir Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, a member of the Taliban’s leadership and deputy foreign ministry, told the BBC Persian that women would be part of the next government. He stated that women will function only at the staffing levels, not at the leadership levels.

It is worth noting that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has a history of ups and downs. The ministry was first established 78 years ago during the reign of Zahir Shah and operated until 1996 when the Taliban rose for the first time. With the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan at the time, the ministry ceased operations and resumed its activities with the new government in 2001. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, has currently ceased its operations. It is not yet clear under what mechanism the alternative entity was created.