The Oppression of Women Under Taliban Rule
By: Abu Muslim Khorasani
Since the Taliban assumed power, many changes have been made to various aspects of social life, yet the issues concerning women’s rights remain unresolved and their demands have gone unanswered. This raises the question of why the Taliban have been so closely associated with women’s issues for the past three decades. What has motivated them to recruit in the name of women and to use suicide vests to push women to the margins? Why are they unwilling to abandon their ideologies regarding women?
Examining the responses to these questions from different perspectives, it can be said that the origin of the Taliban, the cultural context, the fear of the female body, and the emergence of a new pattern of feminism are among the reasons that the Taliban use the word ‘women’ as a symbolic aspect for promising heaven. Through this symbolic aspect, the Taliban has sought to bring people together to build an ideal community where its security will not be threatened by women’s self-esteem.
The Vilification of an Educated Woman
At the core of any social relationship lies a connection between domination and inequality, where power is present, there is uniform and aligned domination. French theorist Michel Foucault examines the issue of dominance at the societal level by analyzing the concept of power. He has linked power to sex and gender in his book History of Sexuality, where he discusses sex and gender in relation to systems of power, ethical standards, the regime of truth, law, and political structures.
Foucault’s work demonstrates that the body is not a natural phenomenon, but is instead socially constructed through knowledge and power. He argues that factors such as historical context, structures, power relationships, and ideologies shape the identity of a subject/norm. In his book Discipline and Punish, Foucault further states that the body is directly involved in a political field. Power relations have a direct influence on the body, which is invested in, marked, trained, tortured, and compelled to carry out tasks, participate in ceremonies, and emit signals.
Currently, in Afghanistan, a group has taken power which has a political foundation based on the oppression and domination of women’s bodies. Despite the unequal relations between men and women, women in Afghanistan have been subjected to domination through the siege of their bodies. The politically dominant group, the Taliban, has deprived women of their rights and authority. As Erica writes in an article entitled ‘Domination’, the dominant group is a representative of social values and gives themselves captivity and subjugation by restricting the rights of other groups.
The establishment of distinctions between ‘us’, ‘them’, and ‘another’ is a component of oppressive conditions, demonstrating that ‘another’ cannot be regarded as a valuable and equal participant. Consequently, the hegemony results in the subjugation of all the representatives, leading to oppression, deprivation, the control of another, and the appropriation of a female body.
The patriarchal community of Afghanistan, and particularly the Taliban governors, have a predetermined notion of what a woman should be; if she does not meet this standard, she is not considered a woman. According to them, a “pure woman” or “Muslim woman” is one with “feminine” features that are tribal in nature, such as invisibility, wearing a burqa, being excluded from politics and economics, being confined to the home, and being obedient to men. By promoting this “feminine pattern,” the Taliban view women as “others.” This is evidenced by the slogans and posters found on the walls of Kabul, such as “the difference between a Muslim woman and the infidel is a burqa,” and a poster with two women, one of whom is wearing a burqa and is marked with a green color. The Taliban consider an enlightened woman to be an “other” and “demonize” her, leading their members to don suicide vests and murder these “demons.”
Therefore, the Taliban speak of the “Sharia framework for women” and do not accept anyone outside of that framework. Consequently, they claim to fight for democracy while simultaneously pushing Afghan women out of the Sharia framework. To integrate other women into this framework, they use slogans such as “enjoining good and forbidding evil” and “woman is dignity.”
The Social and Intellectual Context
Currently, the topic of women has become the foundation and basis of Taliban politics, government, and policy, which has many causes, including their origin (the Taliban). Kandahar, the southern province of Afghanistan, is where the Taliban began and initiated their provocation. For the people in Kandahar, similar to any other part of Afghanistan, matters concerning women are delicate due to cultural reasons. Therefore, the history of the most violent uprising in Kandahar has been about the hijab and women’s clothing during the time of Mohammed Zahir Shah.
The Taliban‘s rise from a tribal culture is closely associated with the concept of “anti–woman“. This culture is deeply rooted in traditional patriarchy, where a woman is viewed as a sexual object and is seen as the property of a man, expected to identify with the man and be protected by him. On the other hand, “honor“ is a prominent component of tribal culture and is highly valued. Societies are believed to be alive only in the presence of honor, a concept derived from the Greek word “nomos“ meaning custom and law. However, in Afghanistan, it is nothing more than a form of discrimination, particularly gender discrimination. In other words, honor is a form of masculine domination over women and their identities. Men are afraid of the power of a woman who is not bound by the laws and traditions of the tribe and sees her freedom as a threat to his domination. Therefore, when a woman defies the ruling customs, the men of the tribe become agitated. This is when the patriarchs, or “honor“, come into play. From the perspective of honor, the rise of a woman from the confines of her home is seen as a problem, as it is seen as a breach of the security of the forbidden space.
Given the sensitivity of the cultural and traditional society towards women, the Taliban have taken advantage of this and used ‘honor/woman‘ as a rallying point to mobilize people. They have made it a symbol of conflict, which will bring an end to the patriarchal society. To this end, they have employed slogans such as “our women are in danger“ and “we are exposed to the loss of dignity (honor)” to bring people together, promising to create an ideal community. The woman is the most symbolic element of the Taliban‘s promise, a promise that unites them and brings them under one banner.
The utilization of ‘woman‘ and ‘preserving honor‘ to incite people does not only pertain to the Taliban. In numerous conflicts, women, particularly ideas of ‘purity‘ and ‘chastity‘, have become a representation of resistance, and most men in these organizations have assumed the roles, descriptors, and identities attributed to women. During the Iranian Islamic Revolution against the Shah in the 1940s, “woman“ was viewed as the symbol of such movements. The anti–Shah organized their movements, utilizing this symbol with the slogan “return to the origin.” Even then, “scar) had become a symbol of opposition and protest in opposition to the government. to the government.
For the past twenty years, Afghanistan‘s democracy–based system has enabled women to enjoy legal freedom. During this time, women have worked hard, studied, and entered the public, economic, and political spheres. This has allowed a group of women to attend cities, which is a departure from the traditional role of a housewife. To some extent, traditional values, particularly in urban society, have been weakened and replaced by the new values of democracy. The increased presence of women in various social spheres and the representation of media from ‘urban women‘ and ‘enlightened women‘ has weakened the patriarchal society, which has in turn led to the strength of the Taliban. The group defines its narrative as being distinct from the enlightened and liberated woman, or as the group says, the “lost honor of men“. This irritation and dissatisfaction with the progress of women is not only seen on the Taliban‘s battlefield. They are disgusted with the new position of the woman shown in their writings, songwriting, advertising, and sermons in the form of anti–democracy and Western struggles. Their aim is to return the woman to traditional roles in order to preserve the values they are protecting. All of their efforts have been to cover women head–to–toe, which stems from their ‘anti–woman‘ feelings.
The Taliban promised their people a society in which the role of Muslim women would be restored. This was a key promise to their followers, and so they cannot back away from it, as doing so would mean they would lose their intellectual system and the promise they had made. To mobilize the rural masses, the Taliban promised to cover women, eliminate their freedom, and confine them to their homes.
Vahid Mozhda, the head of the Taliban Foreign Ministry‘s Intelligence and Publications, wrote that in a meeting with a delegation from the United Nations regarding the Taliban‘s problem of women‘s education, the Taliban Foreign Minister stated that they had commitments to make to their military personnel, one of which was to prevent women from working and receiving an education. He went on to explain that if they were to violate this commitment, the military would leave the front lines and return to their villages. Therefore, as long as the opposition was against them, they needed these forces, and were thus obligated to continue this policy. The Minister concluded that changing this policy was only possible when the war was over, which explains why the Taliban held so firmly to the issue of women.
In summary, the Taliban emphasize the darkness of tribal culture that is overshadowing women and using it as a shield to rally people against them. Consequently, they cannot abandon their oppressive female policy, as discrimination, oppression, and repression of enlightened women are the foundations of their beliefs and a line they will not cross.