Human rights group Afghan Witness released a report on Monday saying that abusive online posts and hate speech targeting politically engaged women in Afghanistan have tripled since the Taliban returned to power in August 2021. The group analyzed more than 78,000 abusive posts between June to December in 2021 and 2022 and interviewed Afghan women in finding that the abusive posts had “chilling effect[s]” on female engagement online.
According to Afghan Witness, Afghan women were mainly subject to gender, sexual, political, ethnic and religious abuse. The online posts targeted Afghan women by employing sexualized terms and ethnic slurs as well as depicting Afghan women as promiscuous. Afghan women were also accused of acting as “agents of the West” to seek asylum abroad.
The report stated that the abusive posts had caused Afghan women to experience feelings of stress, anxiety, fear, and low self-esteem. One interviewee found the online abuse to be “psychologically traumatic” and others stated that they censored themselves on social media to avoid backlash.
To counter the abusive posts, Afghan Witness called on social media platforms to protect women online more effectively. The group said that social media platforms should revise their hate speech policies and dedicate resources to detecting hate speech in “minority languages and regional dialects.” Furthermore, Afghan Witness recommended creating a network for Afghan women to collaborate on initiatives to promote a safer environment online.
This is not the first time a group has warned about human rights in Afghanistan. On October 20, UN experts said that the human rights situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating. UN Special Rapporteur Richard Bennet stated that the “deteriorating human rights situation” was primarily due to the policies of the Taliban and economic and humanitarian crises in Afghanistan. On September 26, UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous urged the UN Security Council to intervene in the rights crisis Afghan women were facing. She also said that women’s rights in Afghanistan were deteriorating under Taliban rule.