Afghanistan: Calls for ending Taliban's 'gender apartheid'

Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai and Afghan activists slam the global community for merely paying lip service to women's rights in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan

Since the Taliban takeover, women and girls have been increasingly confined to their homes (photo: DW)
Since the Taliban takeover, women and girls have been increasingly confined to their homes (photo: DW)


Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021, Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai has been actively campaigning for women's rights in the war-devastated country.

"The Taliban's edicts are systematically erasing millions of women and girls in Afghanistan from public life — and we all must do more to hold the Taliban to account," Yousafzai told DW, adding: "First and foremost, I am calling on all governments to make gender apartheid a crime against humanity."

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is discussing on Wednesday the increasingly dire situation in Afghanistan.

At the start of December, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) — established by the UNSC in 2002 to support Afghan institutions in areas such as human rights, the rule of law and equality — published its latest report.

In it, UNAMA refers to the Taliban administration as "de facto authorities" as it lacks international recognition.

"The de facto authorities continue to restrict the rights of women and girls."

Since the Taliban takeover, women and girls have been increasingly confined to their homes.

They are barred from education beyond sixth grade, including university, public spaces like parks, and most jobs.

They are required to take a male chaperone with them on journeys of more than 72 kilometers (45 miles) and follow a dress code.

The UNAMA report states that in some provinces, like Khost and Sabul, women and girls are prohibited from even visiting local markets or stores without a male companion.

A Taliban decree in July also ordered the closure of all women-run beauty salons, one of the few remaining places that women could go to outside the home or family environment.

No improvement despite awareness

The international community has been aware of the situation for a long time, Niloufar Nikseyar, a former lecturer at Herat University, told DW.

"At every opportunity, a new report has been published about the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. Each time, we have hoped that the world will hear our voice and that the situation will change for the better," she said.

"But we haven't seen any improvements in the past two years. Still, as a woman, I always strive to be the voice of the victims in Afghanistan. We don't want to give up hope."

Niloufar Nikseyar, who still lives in Afghanistan, belongs to a group of women who organize reading sessions at home for women and girls. Even for these all-female gatherings, they have to inform the Taliban and seek permission.

The Taliban's broken promises

When they seized power, the Taliban initially promised to respect women's rights under the Islamic law, or Shariah.

But the Islamic fundamentalist group has gradually introduced a slew of restrictions and policies denying women and girls even their basic rights — solely because of their gender.

Sahraa Karimi, an Afghan film director, described Taliban policies as "gender apartheid" and stressed that they are "a crime against humanity."

Fearing for her life, Karimi fled Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. She now lives in the US.

"In the past two years, reports from Afghanistan and the restrictions on women and girls have shown that the Taliban have not changed their attitude at all," she said.

"Unfortunately, the international community is supporting the Taliban by remaining silent. This allows them to continue suppressing women's basic rights."

How to support women and girls?

Karimi is worried about the future of Afghanistan. She fears that Afghan society will become even more regressive under Taliban rule and serve as a base for radical forces, which ultimately pose a serious threat to the entire world. 

It is time for the international community to actively work to abolish gender segregation in Afghanistan and ensure that the Taliban are held accountable for their actions, she underlined.

"Western countries, as well as regional powers, can change this situation, but I don't see any political will to do so," said Shaharzad Akbar, a rights advocate who was head of Afghanistan's Human Rights Commission from 2019 to 2021.

Akbar, who is now living in the UK, received an award from Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation in November for her efforts to promote human rights. 

On the sidelines of the award ceremony, she told DW: "Afghanistan must not be forgotten. It is our duty to be the voice of women in Afghanistan. Human rights activists and the media must not allow the Taliban's lies to become the truth about Afghanistan."

Malala Yousafzai stressed the need to "send a clear signal to Afghan women and girls that we see them, we hear their call to action and we stand ready to offer our solidarity. We also need to help girls continue their studies while the ban on school remains in place."

"Philanthropists and investors can scale up their funding to the Afghan and international organizations who have been providing creative, alternative and digital learning programs to reach Afghan girls in their homes."

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Published: 21 Dec 2023, 8:46 AM