Women in Afghanistan

OLIVIA CHAN | NEWS



Mid-August. Several months before that, US President Joe Biden had announced the full withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by September, as one of his primary agendas. Although it spelled the end of a twenty-year-long war based upon anti-terrorism policies, this posed a new fear for the women in Afghanistan. According to Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban’s Political Office in Doha, women could “have their basic rights as per Islamic rules,” women’s rights under Sharia law.


Sharia Law and The Taliban


Sharia translates to ‘the way’ in Arabic, which is mainly based on the rulings of the Quran and the actions and words of the Prophet Muhammad. They provide central moral and ethical principles to guide Muslims, which vary depending on the method of interpretation and jurisprudence, as established under several Islamic schools of thought.


An aspect of the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law is derived from the Deobandi movement, which arose in the 19th century. The movement was initially formed in India in opposition to British rule. Thus, it adheres to literal interpretations of Sharia law with a strong condemnation against Western influence. The Taliban’s interpretation is then completed via their own “lived experience as a predominantly rural and tribal society,” as highlighted by Tallha Abdulrazaq, a researcher at the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute. Such “lived experience” however, lacks evidence of influence from “the way.”


For women, this highly conservative outlook appears grim. This was apparent when they came to power in the 1990s, employed strict dress codes, and banned women from work and education. Accordingly, Shabnam Dawran, a news anchor of the state channel RTA Pashto, claimed to be told to go home when she tried to go to work after the takeover in August.


A Woman’s Life


With the Taliban attempting to stop Afghans from fleeing the country, women who remain may be condemned to live in restriction. Accordingly, a woman was shot and killed for not wearing a burqa on August 24th. This appears to contradict the group’s statement on ‘women’s rights.’


In a broader context, this demonstrates how Afghan women are condemned to survive with severe gender inequities, as sensationally demonstrated by the mob murder of Farkhunda Malikzada in 2015, who was accused of burning the Quran by a shopkeeper. In a disturbing light, women and girls are also at risk of becoming victims of a sex slave industry, which existed in the past Taliban rule. According to Najeeba Wazefadost, the founder of the Asia Pacific Network of Refugees who settled in Australia in 2000 and as a refugee herself, young girls were sold to stay alive. With no childhood, girls are also left with no education. Pashtana Zalmai Khan Durrani, the Executive Director at LEARN Afghanistan, which is an education organisation focused on women’s rights, adds that she has already witnessed many female students fearing hopelessness due to recent events: “All my dreams, all my goals, for nothing. For nothing,” has become a common phrase.


Closer to home, many women also face a harsh domestic lifestyle. According to a survey conducted in 2015 by the Demographic and Health Surveys Program of USAID, 90% of women in parts of Afghanistan have experienced domestic violence from their husbands. Dr Jenevieve Mannell, an associate professor and researcher of global health at University College London (UCL) who conducted a five-year descriptive study, highlighted that men in Afghanistan often view women as requiring male protection and guidance. Thus, for some men, women must be ‘taught’ through violence to ensure their safety or honour. Mannell also highlights that the prolonged conflict in Afghanistan has caused further detriment to gender inequalities where the exploitation of fathers and brothers has caused women to become highly vulnerable to becoming married to abusive men. Additionally, from a male perspective, the war had impacted everyone’s mental health, which has contributed to domestic violence. Thus, women in Afghanistan continue to face domestic abuse while being forced to live a restrictive life that places them closer to their abusers under Taliban rule.