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"Human Rights" called on the international community to guarantee women's rights (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP)

With the Taliban’s return to power, fears are mounting that Afghan women will lose many of the freedoms they gained since 2001.

Human Rights Watch fears the return of the Taliban to power, saying that “Afghan women find themselves in a position untenable in the search for the help of the international community.”

The Human Rights Watch stressed that “as shocking as the Taliban’s violations against women in 2001 were, it has become more than that now,” considering that “standing by Afghan women in their struggle, and finding tools to pressure the Taliban and the political will to do so, is the least of what we can do.” The international community can do it.

On the other hand, Inamullah Semanghani, an official in the Taliban, stressed during statements broadcast on the Afghan state television, which is now controlled by the movement, on Wednesday, that “the Islamic Emirate does not want women to be victims.”

But many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to its previous harsh practices of imposing what it says are Islamic law. During the movement’s rule between 1996 and 2001, women were not allowed to work, and the movement applied penalties such as stoning, flogging, and hanging.

On the other hand, the spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in the first press conference that the Afghans took control of the country: “no more war in Afghanistan. We (…) (the Taliban leader) forgave everyone who fought against us,” and added: “our women will have all the rights under Sharia.”

When asked about the differences between the Taliban government, which was overthrown by a Western military intervention led by the United States twenty years ago, and the movement today, he said, “If the question is based on belief and beliefs, there is no difference… But if it is based on experience, maturity, and insight, then without a doubt. There are many differences.”

In turn, Reuters collected, in a report, six areas in which women’s lives have improved since the fall of the last Taliban government 20 years ago, and gains that are now feared to be at risk.

Education

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, girls over the age of eight were prevented from receiving an education.

The number of girls enrolled in primary school in Afghanistan rose to 33 percent in 2017 from less than 10 percent in 2003, while their enrollment in secondary schools reached 39 percent in 2017, up from 6 percent in 2003.

The University of Kabul also began teaching a master’s degree in Gender and Women’s Studies in 2015.

The Work

The number of Afghan women working rose to 22 percent in 2019 from 15 percent in 2001, as women opened private businesses in fashion and beauty to accounting and electrical engineering.

Women increasingly appeared in all sectors of society, including the press, healthcare, and law enforcement.

But since the Taliban took control of Kabul last Sunday, workers have removed pictures of women from shop windows and salons.

Clothing

Under the first Taliban regime, women were required to wear the burqa, a one-piece veil over the face and body, and be accompanied by a male relative outside their homes.

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Under the first Taliban regime, women were required to wear the burqa (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP)

While the group sought to present a more moderate face after its return to power, it said that women would wear the veil (the veil usually covers the head and hair but allows the face to be seen).

Legal Rights

In 2009, the Afghan government passed the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women, which banned 22 violations against women, including rape, battery, and forced marriage, and established courts with female judges.

Ireland’s ambassador to the United Nations, Geraldine Byrne Nason, warned this week of “multiple and credible reports of summary executions, forced marriage, sexual and gender-based violence”.

Reproductive Control

In the first decade after the fall of the Taliban, modern family planning use doubled to 22 percent of couples, contributing to a drop in maternal deaths, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

Contraceptive use is still limited as many people prefer to have large families. With more than 75 percent of Afghanistan’s budget funded by international donors, it is unclear what will happen to the health services now.

Political Power

Since 2001, women have played major roles in politics, with surgeon Suhaila Siddik serving as Minister of Health in 2001, Habiba Sarabi becoming the first female governor in 2005, and Zarifa Ghafari being the first female mayor in 2018.

In 2018, 417 female candidates competed for parliamentary seats across the country. Before the Taliban took over on Sunday, women held 27 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament.

Now the Taliban are also recommending women to participate in political life. In his statement, Samanghani urged women to join the new government, saying: “All parties must join.”

On the other hand, US State Department spokesman Ned Price, on Tuesday, conditioned “any future relationship with the Taliban” to “actions, not just words,” adding that “a new Afghan government must be formed that is committed to the rights of the people.”

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