The women of Afghanistan are still waiting within their houses for their basic rights to study and work, two months since the regime change. When the Taliban took power in August, they ordered to all working women, except those in the public-health sector, and female students to stay at home until all workplaces and learning environments would be deemed “safe”.
Regarding women’s education, Taliban’s Higher Education Minister, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, indicated women would be allowed to study, but not alongside men. Yet when in September the Taliban government said that older boys could resume school, older girls aged between 12 and 18 were asked to stay at home until conditions feasible for their return prevailed. Moreover, it was announced that universities would be segregated by gender and women would be required to wear hijabs, although Haqqani did not specify if additional face coverings would be mandatory. He also announced a review of the subjects to be taught, a policy that marks a significant change from the accepted practice before the Taliban takeover, as female students did not have to abide by a dress code and universities were co-educational, with men and women studying side by side. Impenitent about such change, Haqqani openly stated that they “have no problems in ending the mixed-education system, the people are Muslims and they will accept it.”
There have been speculations that the new rules would ultimately exclude women from education because the universities do not have the resources to provide separate classes, although Haqqani claims that there are enough female teachers and, if needs be, alternatives will be arranged. However, as a matter of example, Afghanistan’s first and only music school and its renowned all-female Zohra Orchestra have lost hope for any future since the Taliban’s return to power. Many girls joined the orchestra to run away from war and poverty, while at the same time pursuing their dream of becoming great musicians. Some played at Carnegie Hall or at the Kennedy Center, many travelled the world as members of Afghanistan’s only all-female orchestra. In the span of a night, the girls’ hopes and dreams disappeared. Today, their school, the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, has become a military base. The music school’s director, Ahmad Naser Sarmast, said that the “everything that our school was doing – gender equality, musical education and diversity, women’s rights – is against the Taliban’s vision and ideology.” Taliban defended their attack on the music school by describing it as an insult to Islam. According, to a Taliban commander, Maulavi Ahmedi Karwan, “music is not in our religion, and since the Islamic Emirate has taken over, music has no longer a place here.”
More broadly speaking, many prominent professional women fled Afghanistan in anticipation of the group’s return to power. The country’s biggest pop singer, Aryana Sayeed, left the country on a US cargo plane, while the famous film director Sahraa Karimi was evacuated to Ukraine. Beheshta Arghand, a journalist with TOLO news who made headlines by interviewing a Taliban commander after power seizure in Kabul, days later fled Afghanistan fearing for her life. Those who remain in Afghanistan include female judges, women’s rights activists, former U.S. military translators, artists and countless others whose work or beliefs are inconsistent with the Taliban’s ideology. Hence, many remain in hiding in their houses, Taliban’s rules notwithstanding.
Several female activists took the streets of major cities to protest against restrictions and demanding equality, also by including women in the new “government”. However, protests were dispersed by Taliban special forces, who fired gunshots into the air and reportedly used tear gas, as confirmed also by Amnesty International reports, which also showed Taliban fighters using whips against women protesters. The Taliban have come down violently on former government employees and targeted those who worked for the Afghan police force, as well as female judges and prosecutors, with reports of both ex-prisoners and Taliban fighters ransacking the homes of female judges. In an instance, in one of their many Whatsapp groups, a collage of 28 profile pictures was circulated and every face, according to one judge, was a former female prosecutor allegedly assassinated by criminals released from prison.
Additionally, the Taliban’s new government has scrapped the Women’s Affairs Ministry and replaced it with the Ministry of Vice and Virtue, a much-feared department that in the 1990s was responsible for deploying religious police to the streets to enforce Sharia law during the Taliban’s previous reign. It has a shameful record for beating women for infractions such as dressing immodestly and being outside without a male guardian. A group of Afghan women urged the United Nations to block the Taliban from gaining a seat at the world body. but rather give it to somebody who respects the rights of everyone in Afghanistan. As Afghan women continue to fight for their basic rights, the International Community must restrain that Taliban from its successful propaganda of creating an artificial world ‘without women’. They must be challenged and pressured by world leaders to allow Afghan women to pursue a normal life with a right to education and work as a pre-condition for any diplomatic relations or international aid from the International Community.