Dr Huma Baqai

15th May, 2022. 10:15 am

Regression of women rights in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a profoundly patriarchal and a conservative society. Women largely dress very conventionally, and even young girls wear hijab. However, Afghan women under Taliban 2.0 are again facing repression and marginalization, aimed at reversing the visibility, freedom, and empowerment Afghan women have acquired for themselves. Many women fear a return of enforced invisibility they suffered for five years during 1996-2001 under Taliban 1.0.

The so-called Taliban 2.0 come up with new restrictions every other day. As early as December 2021, the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued a guidance, which called on vehicle owners to refuse rides to women not wearing headscarves. The Taliban authorities had ordered that woman seeking to travel long distances should not be allowed on road transport unaccompanied. This had drawn condemnation from human rights’ activists.

The story where the new Taliban administration had announced that girls’ high schools will be closed, hours after they reopened for the first time in nearly seven months in March 2022, created quite an uproar. As reported on May 6th, the Taliban said that Muslim clerics will meet to decide on the reopening of schools for girls above sixth grade as pressure mounts on them to allow girls’ secondary education in Afghanistan.

The situation on the ground is not pretty. “The requirements on hijab are getting tougher day by day,” said a teacher regarding the mandatory Muslim headscarf. “They have spies to record and report.… If students or teachers don’t follow their strict hijab rules, without any discussion they fire the teachers and expel the students.” She shared a photo of her school’s assembly; students and teachers all wore uniforms allowing only their eyes to show.

It is not just education, they are also targeting independent women mobility. Taliban officials in Afghanistan’s most progressive city have told driving instructors to stop issuing licenses to women. “We have been verbally instructed to stop issuing licenses to women drivers … but not directed to stop women from driving in the city,” said Jan Agha Achakzai, the head of Herat’s Traffic Management Institute.


The Taliban have largely refrained from issuing national, written decrees, instead allowing local authorities to issue their own edicts, sometimes verbally. Naim al-Haq Haqqani, who heads the Provincial Information and Culture Department, said no official order had been given.

This is also now changing. The Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhunzada has issued a harsh decree through the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice criminalizing women dress code. As per his statement, Afghan women “should wear a chadori (head-to-toe burqa) as it is traditional and respectful.” The new regime has imposed criminal punishment for violation of the dress code for women. The statement has identified the chadori (the blue-coloured burqa or full-body veil) as the “best hijab” of choice.

This is one of the harshest restrictions imposed on Afghan women since the Taliban seized power last year. The punishment mechanisms are also reminiscent of the past, where male guardians of offending women will be held responsible and punished. “If a woman is caught without a hijab, her mahram (a male guardian) will be warned. The second time, the guardian will be summoned [by Taliban officials], and after repeated summons, her guardian will be imprisoned for three days,” according to the statement. Akif Muhajir, a spokesman for the ministry, said that government employees who violate the hijab rule will be fired. Male guardians found guilty of repeated offences “will be sent to the court for further punishment,” When announcing this latest decree, one cleric said that the Taliban could never be pressured by the West into compromising on their beliefs. For Afghan women who have spent years struggling to make fragile progress in the country, it seems as if two decades of achievements are being rolled back.

Since taking over Afghanistan, the Taliban have reintroduced draconian restrictions on freedoms and movement of women that are reminiscent of their last rule in the nineties. Women in Afghanistan, despite living under the shadow of war and conflict, had made considerable progress. They had acquired both a voice and visibility in the media, at universities, and in workplaces. But now they face an imminent risk of losing these gains under the present Taliban administration. All their fears have come true. The Taliban have gone back on their word. They had pledged inclusivity and had claimed that their restrictions on women working and girls studying are “temporary” and only in place to ensure all workplaces and learning environments are safe for them. It rang untrue then, its proven untrue today. New laws and restrictions surface every other day which directly impact women.

The top tier of the Taliban actively seeking legitimacy and recognition in addition to financial assistance from the international community will have to respond to internal and external sensitivities and sensibilities. Regressive policies being touted in the name of Islam, by the Taliban are neither acceptable to the international community, nor to the progressive women of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan was ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for women even before the capture of power by the Taliban. Women issues in Afghanistan have largely remained under addressed or unaddressed, however under the Taliban a regression is not just being feared, it is happening.


United States may be advocating women rights in Afghanistan now, but back in the day when the negotiations with the Taliban were taking shape, it had been a bit evasive on the issue of Afghan women. Among many unaddressed issues was the concern about women’s rights and human rights, which were not even mentioned in the text of the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement. The female civil society representatives were also conspicuous by their absence in the talks. What is happening is the culmination of that. The U.S hurried exit from Afghanistan haunt the women of Afghanistan the most.

The gains made in the last twenty years since the demise of the last Taliban regime have largely been due to the pressure from the international community. International experts had a significant influence in the creation of the Afghan constitution. The Afghan government had used women rights and gender equality to appease donors. The Afghan women even back in the day did not trust their own government to protect them fully.

Afghan women are fighting back, taking to streets, and protesting, even in face of violence from the Taliban amid attempts to ban protest. Taliban are not a resistance force anymore; statecraft calls for pragmatism. The Afghans that allowed a walk over by them to oust the foreign occupiers may rise up against them, this will open the door for those waiting on the side lines to get back again wanting the Taliban to fail desperately.

It’s not the nineties, the world has changed. Taliban need to respond to the changing situation. The facilitated capture of power was comparatively easy, sustaining control is another story. They must deliver, generate goodwill, prevent the economic implosion, and respond to new realities on the ground including the demands of the empowered women of Afghanistan. One hopes it will not just be done to appease the international community and the donors like the governments of the past, but for the women of Afghanistan. They should be given their due rights both in form and substance if the Taliban seek to become a civilized member of the international community. Foremost being the right to education and the right to work. Islam denies neither.


The writer is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts, IBA Karachi