Updated: Nov 26, 2021
In mid July 2021, the Taliban took back control of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops from the country. They vowed their new policies would differ from their previous rule, back before 2001, but so far, they don’t seem to be upholding this promise. Most of the country is suffering under this new government, but our thoughts go out to the women of Afghanistan, especially young girls who grew up under American influence.
When the United States took control of Afghanistan in 2001, their goal was to create a more liberal country, placing an emphasis on individual liberties and improving the treatment of women. In 1999, not a single girl was enrolled in a secondary school in all of Afghanistan, and 9000 were in primary school. This number increased exponentially over the next twenty years, rising to 3.4 million girls in school in 2017, 39% of which were in secondary school. This increase in education subsequently allowed women to look for jobs and join the workforce, thus creating a rise in the economic activity of the country.
Furthermore, under recent American backed Afghan governments, women were holding political office. The US implemented a law that stated that at least 27% of parliament had to be female, which was promptly established, with 69 of 249 seats in parliament being held by women in 2021, as opposed to zero in 1999. Women were also allowed into business, with over 1000 women starting their own companies from 2001 to 2019. These numbers show just how empowering American influence was for Afghan women, finally allowing them civil liberties and basic human rights. This was upheld for 20 years, and as a result, women are understandably reluctant to submit themselves to Taliban rule.
The change in government hasn’t even been official for three months, and already women are seeing a drastic decrease in their freedom. For young girls previously attending schools, it is uncertain whether they will be able to continue to do so in the next few years. The Taliban are currently working with a segregated school and university system, implementing a restricting dress code. Although the Taliban have given no clear instructions as to the type of clothes that should be worn, students not wearing burkas or niqabs are arrested and expelled. Women are particularly outraged by this restriction of clothing, as traditional, colorful clothes are part of Afghan culture, and taking that away is taking away part of their identity.
Finally, the Taliban have replaced the “Ministry of Women’s Affairs” with the “Ministry of Vice and Virtue”, and are prohibiting women from holding government positions. Moreover, any protest needs to be approved by the Taliban government, and any woman brave enough to protest these new laws is beaten and arrested, as demonstrated by the September 7th protests in Kabul, in which protesters were fired at, killing 2 and injuring 8 more.
For young girls who have only known a liberal government, this sudden, radical change is upturning their life. They don’t know how to live under an oppressive government, because they’ve never had to, and those who were alive before 2001 are learning that the withdrawal of American troops means “back to square one”.
Tess is a full-time OnJustice Group member