The difference in the situation of women before and during the Taliban

Nilofar Ayoubi

With the re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan at midnight on August 15, 2021, some areas underwent major changes. One of these areas is women’s lives. The important question now is how does the life of this section of society differ from the past with the rise of the Taliban? What has been the situation of women in the last twenty years and where was it going and how is it now and where is it moving?

When al-Qaeda was ousted in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks in the United States and then the Taliban government was overthrown in Afghanistan, a new atmosphere opened up for women. The most important features of this period are:

Higher education: While in the first term of the Taliban government between 1996 and 2001, women and girls faced severe restrictions and limited educational opportunities, with the new regime in Afghanistan, the doors of schools and universities were opened for girls and women. And through several five-year programs implemented by the Afghan Ministries of Education and Higher Education with financial support from donor countries and international organizations such as the World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF and the Asian Development Bank, educational opportunities from elementary to advanced levels were provided for Millions of children and young people, especially girls. However, the challenges of educating girls in recent years, especially in the rural and remote areas, never ended, with more than 50 percent of girls out of school throughout Afghanistan according to credible sources; But the government, with the cooperation of international institutions and the media, and using the influence of local Ulema and influential people, made great efforts to attract more girls to schools. During these two decades, a significant number of girls for higher education took advantage of scholarship opportunities in various countries around the world for Afghan youth and improved their academic status.

Cultural, social and sports affairs: In the past twenty years, with international support and domestic economic opportunities, the ground has been prepared for the activities of the media and civil and social institutions in Afghanistan. In addition, as more educated Afghan women returned to Afghanistan from abroad and were recruited into these institutions, more young women and girls from within the country were trained and employed in these cultural and social centers. Through implementation of various programs such as workshops, seminars and the formation of small and large communities, civil societies became a great opportunity to grow the capacity of young people in group work, managerial activities and social assistance. During these years, hundreds of audio-visual, print, and electronic media were created in Afghanistan, which, in the light of the principle of freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution, provided major employment opportunities for young people, including girls and women. A significant number of these women and girls also traveled to various countries around the world for additional skills training in media, cultural and social affairs, and became closely acquainted with the successful experiences of these countries and were employed in the country.

Labor and the economy: In Afghanistan, women have long worked in government offices and economic corporations. Over the past twenty years, women’s work in government offices, foreign and domestic NGOs, and economic corporations has expanded unprecedentedly. This owed much to the open space of women’s work and activity, and even their preferences in foreign aid for gender equality and in domestic programs to provide more services to women. Accordingly, during the programs of the Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission, thousands of women have been employed in the executive and judicial sections of government in recent years through free competition. Women were also recruited in the military, police, and civil aviation sectors after training.

The establishment of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was also effective in providing development policies to improve the living and working conditions of women. Although Afghan women, like women all over the world, have always played an important role in the family economy, in the light of free market policy in the Afghan economy, these two decades provided an opportunity for capable women to use new methods of business and economic work to establish manufacturing and commercial companies exclusively for women and they have involved hundreds of women in various economic activities. They were able to establish a Chamber of Commerce for female traders in Kabul and several provinces to provide the necessary legal and trade union facilities for their business activities.

Politics: The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan prohibits any kind of discrimination among citizens. In addition, there has been positive discrimination in favor of women in politics. Accordingly, 27% of the members of the House of Representatives and 23% of the members of the Senate were necessarily reserved for women, even if their votes in the elections were less than those of men. They could compete with men in other seats; Thus, 68 of the 249 members of the House of Representatives and 23 of the 102 members of the Senate were definitely allocated to women.

Also, in all the cabinets of the last twenty years, a number of the highest positions in the ministries, up to the level of minister, deputy minister and head, belonged to women. In addition to being a female Minister of Women’s Affairs, a number of women have held the positions of Minister of Public Health, Information and Culture, Mines, Education, and Higher Education over these years. Women even ran for president twice. During this period, four women took over the governorship, the most famous of whom is Habiba Sarabi, the former governor of Bamyan during Hamid Karzai’s presidency, who in recent years was the deputy head of the High Peace Council and a member of the peace negotiating team. Several women also served as embassies, including Adeleh Raz, Afghanistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has also been led by women for nearly two decades since its inception; Dr. Sima Samar and Shahrzad Akbar. All of these opportunities promised Afghan women and girls a bright and hopeful future.

Overall, the opportunities provided to Afghan women over the past two decades, especially their impact on women’s lives, are far beyond the scope of an article. But this does not mean that there is no criticism of the way women are viewed by policymakers and financial backers, as well as the managers of institutions and the ways in which they interact with them in Afghanistan’s traditional and patriarchal society. Certainly there have been mistakes against them; Including a instrumental view of women in advertising and artistic and media activities.

The situation of women during the Taliban era

During the Taliban regime, many values ​​have changed and major changes have taken place in most areas of women’s lives. In the field of education, although, like the first period of the Taliban rule, the education of girls is not totally banned; But so far only female students have been allowed to go to school up to the sixth grade. Higher grades up to university level should be regulated by on a gender basis. This is something that is impossible or difficult in many cases in the middle of the school year; Especially in terms of shortages of specialized manpower for teaching. If this measure is taken based on a strategic program, it can really improve the scientific and educational position of women as the academic staff of educational and higher education institutions over a period of ten years; But if there is an excuse to put pressure on schools and universities or there is no purposeful and systematic program, the policy of gender segregation in the field of education can be a great blow to women’s society and ultimately to society as a whole by discouraging them and finally to the country.

In the cultural, social and sports fields, although no restrictions have been officially announced and applied so far, it seems that the opportunities to work in these fields will not be open for women like in the past. The Taliban’s ostensibly religious interpretation of the religion and Islamic law has posed many challenges for them in governance, and if they continue this way, they will certainly face more complex and insurmountable challenges from which there will be no escape.

The Taliban are already embroiled in controversy over working in administrative jobs. On the one hand, they say, women in their government do not lose anything, and at the same time, women have not been allowed to work in any sector other than the health sector. The Taliban these days are constantly trying buy more and more time, in their own words, to provide a suitable working environment for women. When and how is this suitable environment provided? In the vast majority of departments, doing jobs requires joint work and the constant interaction of officials and staff, and separation is not the solution but is a challange.

If restrictions continue to be imposed, incentives and job opportunities for women in the economy and business will also be limited, and thus their capital and capabilities will be wasted, resulting in a negative impact and it affects the economy of families and society as a whole.

In the realm of politics, the Taliban have already made it clear that women cannot be held accountable at the highest political levels. The role of women politicians is quite clear. They must totally forget about politics! In this case, young girls interested in studying in the fields of politics and public administration will have no choice but to suppress their goals and interests!

Finally, if we go back to the questions raised at the beginning of this article, we can say that the outlook for women’s lives in Afghanistan during the Taliban era is very dusty and vague! What kind of world there will be behind this dust depends on many things; Including their will to understand the existing reality and cross this rugged road!