Taliban Policies Push Afghan Women to the Brink: A Call for Global Intervention Ahead of UN Doha Talks Commentary
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Taliban Policies Push Afghan Women to the Brink: A Call for Global Intervention Ahead of UN Doha Talks

As the United Nations prepares for its third meeting of international envoys on Afghanistan in Doha, concerns are mounting over the exclusion of Afghan women from the process and the lack of focus on the Taliban’s gender apartheid policies.

The plights of women like Arzo — a teacher and a single mother of four — exemplify the deteriorating situation.

Previously, Arzo had earned about 10,000 Afghani (~$143) each month. This was never an enormous sum, but it enabled her to keep her family afloat in a time when most women were forced out of the workplace by the Taliban. As a teacher, Arzo was among a small contingent of professional women who were able to keep their jobs because their fields were deemed essential and their clients were women and girls. Women doctors and nurses were also among the mix of professionals whose work with female clients could not be outsourced to their male counterparts.

But following a recent Taliban decree to cap the salaries of women workers, Arzo’s monthly salary was slashed in half. With just over $70 a month coming in, she’s struggling to make ends meet.

During a recent interview, she grasped for solutions:

“What should I do now with this new salary? Should we stop eating, or should I tell my children to stop studying? Should we live on the streets? And if so, can I even still come to school to teach? And if not, what will I do without so much as 5,000 Afghani a month?:

Arzo’s story is painful, but it is far from unique.

Thousands of female teachers across Afghanistan face similar hardships as the Taliban’s decrees continue to impact women’s lives. Many had been optimistic that female teachers would be spared from work bans, but the latest salary cuts suggest otherwise.

I spoke with an Afghan women’s rights activist, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals:

It seems that this is an excuse to exhaust all these women, forcing them to give up their jobs and stay at home. … This is Taliban-brand governance.

Against this backdrop, the UN recently released a comprehensive report on women’s rights in the country for the first time since the Taliban’s resurgence in August 2021. Their findings were grim.  Just over 50% of women nationwide reported having experienced intimate-partner violence in their lifetimes; in some regions, that figure reached 92%. Nearly 10% of women aged 20-24 reported having been married before the age of 15. In 2022, only 10% of women reported they were able to cover the costs of their basic health needs, and maternal mortality risk increased by upwards of 50%. Mental healthcare was also bleak; 8% of respondents said they knew at least one woman or girl who had committed suicide.

The report outlined dozens of decrees handed down between Sep. 2021, when women were banned from playing sports, to Dec. 2023, when NGOs were “banned from working on projects related to awareness-raising, conflict resolution, advocacy and peacebuilding.”

Later this month, on June 30, members of the Taliban will meet with UN officials and human rights advocates in Doha, Qatar for a dialogue aimed at establishing an international approach to engagement with the Afghan regime.

A coalition of human rights NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, implored the UN in an open letter to take several concrete steps to ensure the women and girls of Afghanistan are not forgotten. These steps include:

  1. Ensuring women’s rights are a fixed agenda item for all such future discussions;
  2. Ensuring the women and girls of Afghanistan are able to enjoy the full range of human rights, without exception;
  3. Ensuring women are able to fully participate in public life; and
  4. Including civil rights and human rights women activists in the Doha dialogues.

The organizations emphasize that women’s rights should be considered in discussions about all aspects of the situation in Afghanistan, including the humanitarian crisis, political process, climate change, counterterrorism efforts, economy, and development initiatives.

As the international community grapples with the Afghan crisis, the resolve of Afghan women grows stronger, even as their situation continues to deteriorate. The upcoming Doha meeting presents a critical opportunity for the global community to address the systematic oppression of Afghan women and girls, and to ensure their voices are heard in shaping the country’s future.

The author is an Afghan legal scholar who cannot be identified due to security concerns.


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