Afghanistan: Taliban restrict women’s rights as isolation looms

Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, rising living costs and unemployment have left many people with barely enough money to buy food. However, the Taliban government has no solution for stopping the collapse of Afghanistan’s economy.

Instead, the Islamist militant group has decided to focus on setting up rules of conduct and dress codes for women based on a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.

New, stricter, rules are announced almost every day. For example, since Sunday, women are only allowed to board an airplane in the company of a man.

According to a letter sent by the Taliban to the airlines operating in Afghanistan, this applies to both domestic and international flights. However, the Associated Press reported Tuesday that woman have been traveling alone from Kabul airport, a sign that some of the Taliban’s orders are being ignored.

Watch video 02:41 Afghan women struggle to keep jobs

The Taliban are also set to reintroduce a dress code calling for women to wear burqas that fully cover their bodies. Since March 29, all female employees working in government authorities and ministries have been required to cover their bodies completely.

This week, some rules for public life also became stricter. Visiting public parks, for instance, will soon be divided by gender. In the future, women will be granted access only three days a week and access to the parks will be limited to men on the remaining four days.

There are also new rules for male employees working for authorities and ministries requiring them to grow a beard, wear traditional Afghan clothing and pray together.

Taliban hardliners calling the shots

The Taliban also recently backtracked on a promise to allow girls to attend school.

Secondary schools for girls will be opened once “appropriate dress codes” are agreed upon for students aged 12 and older, according to a statement issued last week by the Ministry for the “Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.”

This ministry was set up in place of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs after the Taliban took power in August.

Watch video 02:06 Taliban U-turn on Afghan girls’ schooling crushes dreams

“The new restrictions were created by old and uncompromising Taliban leaders,” Afghanistan expert Tariq Farhadi told DW.

An advisor to former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Farhadi believes that the radical wing of the Taliban has prevailed in an internal power struggle.

“For them, ideology is more important than the welfare of the citizens. They have no interest in the Taliban’s rule being recognized by the world community,” he said.

In order to be recognized by the international community as a legitimate government, the Taliban would have to make certain changes, including accepting demands from Western donors, for example, on gender equality.

The radical forces in the Taliban have indicated that they will not accept this.

Economic malaise and looming food crisis

Afghanistan’s economy has been in free fall following the Taliban takeover.

The war-torn country has not been able to stand on its own two feet economically and has been highly dependent on payments from abroad in recent years. Western donors, however, turned off the money tap after the Taliban takeover.

Humanitarian aid intended to reach the suffering population directly through international organizations continues to be provided, but not in sufficient quantities.

Watch video 03:01 Afghan economy continues to depend heavily on opium trade

More than half of the population is threatened by acute hunger. Out of a population of 38 million, 24 million are dependent on supplies of food, water, medicine and other humanitarian goods, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said last week after a visit to Afghanistan.

In total, various aid organizations would need around $8 billion (€7.25 billion) to finance humanitarian work and social programs. Grandi had also spoken with representatives of the radical Islamic Taliban government in Afghanistan.

A planned meeting between Taliban and US representatives last weekend in Doha was canceled by the US side due to the Taliban government’s decision against opening schools to girls.

The meeting was to discuss issues related to the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan.

“The limited and informal exchanges between the international community and the Taliban may break down if the Taliban continue to increase pressure on society,” Soraya Peykan, formerly a professor at Kabul University, told DW.

Peykan said the Taliban had deliberately turned basic rights such as the right to education for girls into a bargaining chip in talks with the international community.

“They want to use the granting of this right as leverage to gain a better position in negotiations,” said Peykan.

Watch video 26:01 Conflict Zone – Aren’t the Taliban ashamed of their human rights record?

Edited by: Alex Berry