Standing with Afghan Women and Girls on International Women’s Day

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A Taliban fighter talks with a woman at the government passport office in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 17, 2021.
© 2021 AP Photo/Ahmad Halabisaz

“While it feels as though the world has given up on Afghan women, we have not.…We need you to stand by us.”—Afghan women’s rights activist Mahbouba Seraj, to the United Nations Security Council, January 26, 2022

On International Women’s Day, we should remember Afghanistan, and consider what the state of women’s rights there means for the struggle for gender equality worldwide.

The Taliban were notorious for violating women’s rights when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. So, when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan again on August 15 last year, Afghan women’s rights defenders were deeply skeptical that the new rulers would be any different from the Taliban that controlled the country before, despite their pledges to respect women’s rights.

The activists warned that the Taliban would crack down hard again on women and girls, and the oppression would intensify over time.

They were right.

In less than seven months since taking over, the Taliban have:

closed most girls’ secondary schools;
created barriers to women and girls pursuing higher education;
banned women from most paid employment;
abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs;
restricted women’s movement including blocking them from leaving the country alone;
dismantled Afghanistan’s system that provided protection from gender-based violence;
created barriers to women and girls accessing health care;
beaten and abducted women’s rights protesters;
silenced female journalists;
banned women’s sports; and
appointed a men-only administration.

Yet, the world’s response has been muted. Several countries proudly claim a “feminist foreign policy.” But the international response to these developments has lacked urgency, and there is little sign of an effective coordinated plan to protect the rights of Afghan women and girls. On the contrary, governments pandered to the Taliban by sending all-male delegations to meet them.

Afghanistan is not the only country where women’s rights are under attack this International Women’s Day. But the speed and extent of the obliteration of women’s rights in Afghanistan is a warning to women around the world about the fragility of progress toward equality, how quickly it can vanish, and how few will defend it. We should all be in solidarity with Afghan women; their fight is a fight for women’s rights everywhere.

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