How the Taliban are violating women's rights in Afghanistan
By shutting down thousands of beauty salons across Afghanistan, the Taliban have taken another great stride toward erasing women from public life
Thousands of beauty salons will be forced to shut down in Afghanistan this month following a decree by the Taliban. For many women, these salons were their last remaining opportunity to earn money legally. Not only were they the sole source of income for many families, but they also provided safe spaces for women to meet, exchange thoughts and feel welcome.
Hardly any other country restricts women's rights as much as Afghanistan. Here, women report living in prison-like conditions that widely forbid them from taking part in public life.
"Over the past 22 months, every aspect of women's and girls' lives has been restricted. They are discriminated against in every way," the United Nations (UN) Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif said in a statement on June 19.
A recent report by the UN Human Rights Council stated further that the "grave, systematic and institutionalized discrimination against women and girls is at the heart of Taliban ideology and rule," adding that the Taliban "may be responsible for gender apartheid."
Women no longer able to study
Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021, women have been banned from higher learning. Initially, women and men were strictly separated at universities. For some time, female students could only be taught by other women or older men. In late 2022, a decree by the Afghan Education Ministry put an end to this and expelled women from universities completely.
It's unclear how many women are now no longer able to study. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has estimated that some 90,000 women could be affected — that's how many were enrolled in 2018.
At the time, the Taliban justified their prohibition by claiming that many female students hadn't worn appropriate Islamic attire, such as a hijab, and that there had been a mixing of genders.
In December 2022, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said it was hard to imagine how Afghanistan would develop and tackle the challenges it faced without the active participation of women and the education they bring to the table, pointing out the "devastating impact on the country's future."
According to various media reports, women are now continuing their education in online seminars. However, due to the country's poor internet network and the lack of jobs and career prospects, this is hardly an alternative.
Women excluded from the job market
Not only have women been banned from education, they have also been excluded from the job market. According to the International Labor Organization, the number of women employed last year was down by 25% compared to mid-2021.
The Taliban have forbidden women from working with the United Nations or with nongovernmental organizations. This has led to several international NGOs such as Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE to shut down their operations in Afghanistan, because they could not implement their projects without female staff. Thousands of female government employees were let go or even paid to stay at home.
Earlier this year, Yamini Mishra, regional director for Amnesty International's South Asia office, said barring women from working for NGOs in Afghanistan was exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. "It is as if the Taliban are intentionally driving the country into famine," she said.
"Their discriminatory policies are bringing shocking levels of food insecurity and making the delivery of international assistance almost impossible," she added. Women in need of assistance can only receive aid from other women, as they are forbidden from being in contact with men who are strangers to them.
Health care for women also severely restricted
Afghanistan is one of the world's most dangerous countries for women, mothers and babies. Each year, about 70 out of 1,000 women die while pregnant or giving birth. Many mothers do not have enough to eat, which raises the risk of complications during pregnancy. After giving birth, they struggle to feed their children.
The humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders has said the Taliban's decision to exclude women from higher education and their employment at aid organizations has drastically worsened access to medical treatment. This is particularly due to the travel restriction the Taliban have imposed on women.
In rural areas, the nearest hospital is often more than the 75 kilometers (47 miles) away, and women aren't allowed to travel without being accompanied by a "mahram" — a father, husband or brother acting as chaperone. To make matters worse, many people in Afghanistan can barely afford the fare for such a long journey, let alone for two people.
What's more, the Taliban has ruled that women can only be treated by female doctors. So far, women have been allowed to continue working in hospitals — but there are too few female doctors, especially in rural areas. And they, too, are bound by the same movement restrictions as their patients. Those who cannot find a mahram to accompany them to work are forced to stay at home. This is why practically all of Afghanistan suffers from a lack of female doctors and midwives.
Strict dress code, no sports
Clothing restrictions have become equally restrictive. In the summer of 2022, Afghan TV presenter Sonia Niazi fought against the regulation to cover her face, but was forced to comply when on air.
In Afghanistan, women are required to wear a burqa, a garment which covers the entire body. If a woman does not comply with this regulation, her male relatives risk jail time.
Female athletic teams are no longer allowed to compete. Due to this rule, Afghanistan's national women's teams live in exile in Australia. The Taliban's edict forbids women in Afghanistan from visiting parks, fitness studios, public pools, gymnasiums and sports clubs, making sports practically impossible for women.