Natalia Karolina Gawlas – Deputy Editor Current Affairs

Natalia Gawlas shines light on the oppression of women which, for decades, has been a topic avoided by many.

Right now, women in the West are rightly fighting to prohibit the gender pay gap and workplace sexism, in addition to ensuring bodily autonomy and reproductive health rights. However, the story for the women of Afghanistan is much starker. Here, women are faced with the much more rudimentary battles of fighting for their right to an education, their right to work, their right to move freely within their communities, and their right to wear less than a burqa.

All the (apparent) privileges of women living in the West are likely to become even further impaired and condensed in the Islamic region of Afghanistan following the recent takeover by the Taliban. As you most likely have already seen on television and social media, pictures, advertisements, and window paintings of women are being erased across the country, as it becomes clear that women shall be treated as lesser beings under the rule of the Taliban.

Senseless talk on the news by a Taliban spokesman announcing that women will have access to education and employment, is, quite frankly, not only extremely vague, but insulting to the women of the country. It wilfully avoids salient topics of concern to Afghan women. Attire choices, marriage rights, freedom of movement, gender-based violence, and basics of livelihood for any woman are likely to be curtailed under the rule of the Taliban. Despite their best efforts, the Taliban’s recent media blitz also fails to explain the panic and uproar seen at Kabul airport, with videos of thousands of citizens desperately fleeing the country the day Taliban took over going viral all across the world.

The talk of peaceful rule is dissonant with the actions of the regime, with images of Taliban soldiers holding guns only further stoking fears of unrest and violence. Meagre suggestions of upholding the rights of women in a somewhat liberalised regime are also unlikely to convince the women of Afghanistan that the Taliban is their friend, especially with their track record of sexism, which include actions as radical as the shooting of Malala Yousafzai in 2012 for the “crime” of being a women’s education campaigner. 

One ought not to forget that under the Taliban’s last period of rule during the 1990s, freedom of movement for women, something taken for granted in the West, was strictly curtailed. Women were forcefully confined to their homes and their input and presence in public life was eliminated. They could not leave their home without a male companion, who effectively acted as their chaperone. As such, fear is only a reasonable response to their recent resurgence, especially for the women of the country.

Not only was the movement of women targeted during the previous Taliban period of rule, but a strict dress code was also enforced, with women obliged to wear the burqa. The Taliban also barred women from working or receiving an education during this period, meaning they were completely dependent on their male counterparts for provision of life’s necessities.

All of these restrictions were justified within the framework of the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law, and sadly had been deemed acceptable within the country, with international condemnation simply disregarded. If this tale sounds familiar, that’s because it is. It appears increasingly evident that history is tragically repeating itself for the women of Afghanistan.  Despite the Taliban’s recent assurances that such discrimination will not be occurring again, it will not come as a surprise to hear that no women have filled any positions since the Taliban reclaimed the country. This fact illustrates the plight of the women of Afghanistan in a microcosm; the Taliban views women’s role in society as essentially powerless, ideally voiceless, and completely subordinate to their male compatriots. The women of Afghanistan are suffering. 

Despite their suggestions to the contrary, the writing is on the wall – women’s rights don’t matter to the Taliban.

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