Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the country has become the most repressive country in the world for women and girls, deprived of many of their basic rights, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
In a statement released on International Women’s Day, the UN mission said Afghanistan’s new rulers had shown an almost “singular attention to imposing rules that leave most women and girls effectively trapped in their homes”.
Despite initial promises of a more moderate stance, the Taliban have imposed tough measures since taking power in August 2021, as US and NATO forces were in the final weeks of their withdrawal from Afghanistan after two decades of war.
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They banned the education of girls beyond the sixth grade and women from public spaces such as parks and gymnasiums. Women are also barred from working in national and international NGOs and ordered to cover themselves from head to toe.
“Afghanistan under the Taliban remains the most repressive country in the world when it comes to women’s rights,” said Roza Otunbayeva, special representative of the UN secretary-general and head of mission in Afghanistan.
“It has been painful to witness their methodical, deliberate and systematic efforts to push Afghan women and girls out of the public sphere,” she added.
The restrictions, especially bans on education and NGO work, have drawn fierce international condemnation. But the Taliban have shown no signs of abating, claiming the bans are temporary suspensions in place allegedly because women were not wearing the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, correctly and because rules on gender segregation were not being followed.
Regarding the ban on university education, the Taliban government said that some of the subjects taught were not in line with Afghan and Islamic values.
“Confining half of the country’s population to their homes in one of the world’s biggest humanitarian and economic crises is a colossal act of national self-harm,” Otunbayeva also said.
“It will condemn not only women and girls, but all Afghans, to poverty and aid dependency for generations to come,” she said. “It will further isolate Afghanistan from its own citizens and from the rest of the world.”
In a carpet factory in Kabul, women who were former government employees, high school or university students now spend their days weaving carpets.
“We all live like prisoners, we feel trapped in a cage,” said Hafiza, 22, who uses her first name only and was a first-year law student before the Taliban banned women from attending classes a la his university. “The worst situation is when your dreams are shattered and you’re punished for being a woman.”
The UN mission in Afghanistan also said it has seen a nearly constant stream of discriminatory edicts and measures against women since the Taliban took over: women’s right to travel or work outside the confines of their homes and the ‘access to spaces is severely restricted, and they have also been excluded from all levels of public decision-making.
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“The implications of the harm the Taliban are inflicting on their own citizens go beyond women and girls,” said Alison Davidian, UN Special Representative for Women in Afghanistan.
No Taliban-led government officials were immediately available for comment.
At the carpet factory, 18-year-old Shahida, who also uses only one name, said she was in the 10th grade of a Kabul high school when her education was cut short.
“We are only asking the (Taliban) government to reopen schools and educational centers for us and give us our rights,” he said.
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In view of International Women’s Day, about 200 Afghan small businesswomen set up an exhibition of their products in Kabul. Most complained that they had lost business after the Taliban takeover.
“I don’t expect the Taliban to respect women’s rights,” said one, Tamkin Rahimi. “Women here can’t exercise (their) rights and celebrate Women’s Day, because we can’t go to school, college or work, so I think we don’t have any day to celebrate.”
The UN Security Council was scheduled to meet later Wednesday with Otunbayeva and women’s representatives from Afghan civil society groups.
According to the statement, 11.6 million Afghan women and girls are in need of humanitarian assistance. However, the Taliban is further undermining the international aid effort by banning women from working for NGOs.