Afghanistan: More signs of Taliban restricting women’s rights

Primary school students in Kabul returned to classrooms on Saturday with gender-segregated rooms, while older girls were excluded from going back to school.

The Taliban, who now rule Afghanistan after seizing power last month, had ordered only boys and male teachers back to the classroom.

But girls faced an anxious wait with no clarity over the resumption of their studies at the secondary school level as the Taliban-run Education Ministry made no mention of their return.

During their previous rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the Taliban had denied girls and women the right to education and barred them from public life.

The fundamentalist group has sought to portray itself as more moderate than it used to be. But so far, their actions seemed to pave the way for the return of their hardline ideology.

Women’s ministry turned notorious vice department

The Taliban have shut down the Afghan Women’s Affairs Ministry — and replaced it with a ministry for the “propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice.” A department with the same name was notorious for enforcing strict religious doctrine during the Taliban’s first rule two decades ago.

Employees of the Women’s Affairs Ministry have complained in the past few days that they were losing their jobs.

The Taliban replaced the sign of the Women’s Affairs Ministry to reflect their new department

According to the AP news agency, staff of the World Bank’s Women’s Economic Empowerment and Rural Development Program, which was run out of the ministry, were escorted off the grounds on Saturday.

Chorus of concerns

The United Nation’s children’s fund (UNICEF) said it was “deeply worried” for the future of girls’ schooling in Afghanistan.

“It is critical that all girls, including older girls, are able to resume their education without any further delays. For that, we need female teachers to resume teaching,” UNICEF said in a statement.

Watch video 00:34 UN rights chief Bachelet criticizes Taliban for curtailing rights of Afghan women

UNESCO’s Director General Audrey Azoulay on Saturday added her voice to growing fears over the Taliban’s limitations on girls’ education.

“Should this ban be maintained, it would constitute an important violation of the fundamental right to education for girls and women,” Azoulay said in a statement upon her arrival in New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly.

The Afghan Women’s Network chief Mahbouba Seraj said she was astounded by the flurry of orders released by the Taliban-run government restricting women and girls.

“It is becoming really, really troublesome. … Is this the stage where the girls are going to be forgotten?” Seraj said. “I know they don’t believe in giving explanations, but explanations are very important.”

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban It’s a man’s world Photos and videos emerging from Afghanistan show bustling activity returning to the streets of cities — as at this restaurant in Herat, where customers are being welcomed back. But there is one conspicuous difference from before: At the tables are men and men alone, often wearing the traditional knee-long tunic. Women have become a rarity in the cityscape.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban Keep them separated A curtain divides these students at a private university in Kabul. Gender separation is now the official policy here — and that is likely to spread. “Co-education contradicts the principles of Islam as well as national values, customs and traditions,” said Abdul Baghi Hakkani, the incoming minister for higher education, in Kabul.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban Lost freedoms Like for these women, on their way to a mosque in Herat — after 20 years of allied forces holding the Taliban at bay, freedoms won by women have been quickly erased. Even sports will be off-limits for female players, said Ahmadullah Wasik, deputy head of the Taliban’s Cultural Commission.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban Omnipresent checkpoints Street scenes are also dominated by Taliban checkpoints. As heavily armed men intimidate the populace, people seek to blend in. Western-style clothing is becoming ever rarer — and the sight of heavily armed soldiers, more common.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban Waiting for work Male day laborers sit at the roadside in Kabul, awaiting a job offer. Afghanistan, already in a precarious economic situation before the Taliban takeover, is now teetering on economic collapse, with unemployment ballooning. The United Nations has said that “universal poverty” threatens to overtake the country within a year. That would be a poverty rate of around 98%, compared to 72% currently.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban Not going down without a fight Afghan women, despite being brutally suppressed, continue to demand their right to education, work and equal rights. But peaceful protests are being met with escalating violence, the UN human rights office warns. The radical Islamists have used batons, whips and live ammunition against protesters, with at least four killings and many more beatings.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban The ‘pro’ side These women, on the other hand, say they are happy with the new order. Escorted by official security, they march the streets claiming full satisfaction with the attitudes and behavior of the Taliban. Such women say those fleeing the country do not represent them and believe that the Islamist rules ensure their safety.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban Aligning course The pro-Taliban demonstration included invitations for journalists, in contrast to anti-Taliban protests. At the latter, journalists report having been intimidated or even abused. It’s a clear sign of the changed times — particularly for women. Author: Claudia Dehn, Sonya Angelica Diehn

fb/jlw (AFP, AP, Reuters)