Taliban take next step to further curtail women’s rights

The Taliban in Afghanistan plan to close beauty salons later this month. Another step to push women out of public life. How the Taliban continue to restrict women’s rights.

Thousands of beauty salons in Afghanistan will have to close within this month following a Taliban decision. For many women, the salons were one of the last opportunities to make money legally. Not only were they the only source of income for many families, they also provided shelter for women: places to meet, to exchange ideas, to feel good.

In hardly any other country are women’s rights restricted as severely as in Afghanistan. Women report prison-like conditions that largely allow them to take part in public life. “Over the past 22 months, every area of ​​women’s and girls’ lives has been restricted. They are discriminated against in every way,” said UN Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif.

According to a report by the UN Human Rights Council, “serious, systematic and institutionalized discrimination against women and girls” is at the heart of Taliban ideology and rule. In recent months, the radical Islamic Taliban have curtailed the rights of women and girls in most areas of public life.

Women are no longer allowed to study

Girls have been banned from secondary school since the Taliban took power in August 2021. At universities, women and men were initially strictly separated. For a while, female students could only be taught by other women or older men. At the end of 2022, a decree by the Afghan Ministry of Education also put an end to these rights and permanently excluded women from universities.

It is unclear how many women can no longer study. But according to UNESCO, around 90,000 women could be affected by the ban. This is how many were enrolled in universities in 2018.

The Taliban justified the ban by saying that many female students did not wear appropriate Islamic clothing such as a hijab and that there had been “interactions between the sexes”.

“This is another very worrying step,” UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in December last year. It is difficult to imagine how the country could develop, how it could deal with all its challenges, without the active participation of women and their education. According to various media reports, many women are now trying to educate themselves through online seminars. But even that is hardly an alternative due to the often poor internet connection and the lack of jobs and career prospects.

No professional perspective

Women are not only denied access to education, but also to the labor market. According to figures from the International Labor Organization (ILO), the number of women in employment at the end of last year was 25 percent lower than in the second quarter of 2021. Thousands of women who worked for the government have been laid off or are even being paid to stay at home .

Among other things, the Taliban have banned women from working with the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Several NGOs, including “Save the Children” and the Norwegian refugee council “CARE”, have already had to stop their activities in the country because they could not implement any projects without employees.

The fact that women are not allowed to work for NGOs is adding to the humanitarian crisis, Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s regional director for South Asia, made clear earlier this year: “It seems as if the Taliban are deliberately driving the country into famine. Their discriminatory, misogynist policies are leading to a shocking level of food insecurity and making it almost impossible to provide international aid.” Women in need can only be supported by helpers, because women are forbidden to get in touch with strange men.

One of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world

For women, mothers and babies, Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world. Around 70 out of 1000 women die each year during pregnancy or childbirth. Many mothers do not have enough to eat, which increases the risk of pregnancy. After birth, they can hardly feed their children.

According to “Doctors Without Borders”, the Taliban’s decision to exclude women from higher education and their work in aid organizations drastically worsens access to medical care. This has mainly to do with the movement restrictions that the Taliban have imposed on women. In rural areas, they often have to travel long distances to the nearest hospital anyway. However, this is only permitted with a so-called “mahram”, a male relative such as a father, husband or brother. In addition, many people in Afghanistan cannot afford the long journeys – especially not for two people.

In addition, according to Taliban rules, women can only be treated by female doctors. They are still allowed to work in hospitals, but there are too few of them – especially in rural areas. And the same movement restrictions apply to them as to their patients. If they don’t have a “mahram” to accompany them to work, they are forced to stay at home. And so there is a shortage of midwives and doctors practically everywhere in Afghanistan.

Dress codes and sports teams in exile

The dress code is now similarly strict. As late as the summer of 2022, Afghan news anchorwoman Sonia Niazi opposed the obligation to wear a veil. But then she too was forced to cover her face on television. The obligation to wear a burqa, i.e. a full veil, applies to all Afghan publics. If women break the dress code, their male relatives face imprisonment.

Even female sports teams – be it in football or cycling – can no longer take part in competitions. The women’s national team in Afghanistan no longer plays in the country itself, but lives in exile in Australia. According to the Taliban ban, women in Afghanistan are not allowed to visit parks or gyms. They are also not allowed to enter public baths, gyms or sports clubs. Sport is hardly possible for them anymore. The current decision to close beauty salons thus joins the prison of prohibitions that the Taliban government has imposed on women.

Hank Peter

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