Cognizant Citizen: Afghanistan, Taliban Rule, and Women’s Rights


“Silenced Voices: The Ongoing Struggle of Women in Afghanistan”


The Taliban orders Afghanistan’s beauty salons to close. Afghan women barred from gyms. Afghan women in mental health crisis over a bleak future. Taliban ban women from working for NGOs. Afghan girls deprived of education. “They left us without any support.” “If they come for me, will they kill me?” “I feel like a prisoner inside my own home.”


“We are forgotten.”


These headlines have enveloped international media with narratives of sorrow, oppression, and despair for the last two years. They convey the grim circumstances of all Afghan women and their struggle to live in a country that continues to diminish their status with each passing day. 


What is the Taliban?


On August 15, 2021, the Taliban, a Pashtun, Islamic fundamentalist group in Afghanistan, returned to power after waging a twenty-year insurgency. The Taliban emerged in the 1990s and ruled most of Afghanistan till October 2001, after which it was overthrown by the US forces. Ever since the formation of the Taliban, the country of Afghanistan has experienced some of the most gruesome and unspeakably tragic situations in human history. Afghanistan’s story is one of oppression, resistance, and hope; It is driven not by the horrors that the country is subjected to, but by the sheer tenacity of its people.


Taliban’s Restrictive Policies towards Women


Brian Adcock on the threat to women’s rights in Afghanistan – cartoon


The Taliban has shut the doors on all young Afghan girls. They have erased these women and girls from public life. They banned women and girls from attending school and universities, depriving them of the opportunity to receive an education. These restrictive policies have only been getting increasingly repressive with each passing day, despite being globally condemned. 


One recurring struggle that Afghan women have been dealing with since the Taliban takeover is the gradual deprivation of education for females. Mothers want their daughters to have the education they couldn’t receive, but that is getting more and more difficult with the Taliban imposing policies restricting and limiting young girls’ access to education every few weeks. Girls had been banned from school beyond sixth grade soon after the Taliban returned to power. “He (Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada) ordered that the universities be closed, so they closed,” said the Minister of Higher Education in Afghanistan, Nida Mohammed Nadim.


Girls attend a class after their school reopened, hours before the Taliban ordered girls’ secondary schools to shut down, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 23. 


Women in Afghan society have lost everything. Their freedom, their rights, and their lives have been brutally snatched away from them. Despite pledges to respect the rights of women and religious and ethnic minority communities, the Taliban have imposed an extremely harsh interpretation of Islamic law. They are forced to live like prisoners in their own country. A woman’s value in Afghan society is slowly being reduced to dust, and the world is simply watching it happen from afar.


The Two Sides of the Coin


While some women support the Taliban because of the significant change in the severity and intensity of their restrictions, others are of a different view. “She would be happy dying from hunger that night, as long as it meant that the war did not return,” said an Afghan woman on Christina Goldbaum’s podcast, The New Afghanistan, Through the Eyes of Three Women.


To some, it is an unacceptable and atrocious act, a slap to their dignity and freedom. Some have lost hope on both sides of this war: The Taliban and the Western front. The Afghan people’s experience may vary, but they have all been fighting the same battle: the fight for justice, truth, and equality. 


In some villages, there were celebrations when the Taliban won over because of the supposed sense of peace and security they would bring. The Afghan people, exhausted and drained from years of incessant struggle, were experiencing newfound freedom because the war had finally ended; All the while being completely unaware of what the Taliban had in store for the country’s people. Since regaining control, the Taliban have taken actions reminiscent of their brutal rule in the late 1990s, crushing the hope of millions of citizens.


The World Fights Back


Afghan women staged protests for their rights to mark International Women’s Day, in Kabul on March 8, 2023. (AFP)


Afghan women are not one to sit still and let an oppressive regime take control of their and their daughters’ futures. Many women started secret schools to educate young girls, putting their lives and families at risk. Such is their grit and determination to create an army of young girls that are not afraid to fight for their rights and who are willing to do whatever it takes to win against a regime that is trying its hardest to reduce their value to a speck every single day. This is not just a violation of their human rights, but a violation of their existence. This poignant truth reverberates through the heart-wrenching struggle of Afghan women as they confront the repressive regime. The violation of their human rights extends beyond the immediate denial of education, autonomy, and basic freedoms; it cuts to the core of their identity and purpose. By stripping away their rights, the regime seeks to erase their voices, aspirations, and contributions from the societal narrative. But Afghan women are not only resisting quietly; they are rising with unwavering resolve against the grip of an oppressive regime.


Such disregard for women’s rights in the country has stirred global dissent against the Taliban. This has manifested in the form of many Western countries supporting the people of Afghanistan, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Austria. So far, there have been two conferences in Vienna and one in Dushanbe, as well as the establishment of a working group to create a “single national umbrella organisation” against the Taliban. The UN operation in Afghanistan has recorded many instances where human rights have been violated. Journalists have been subjected to intimidation and press freedoms have been curtailed by the Taliban, leading to the shutdown of over two hundred media outlets. Their governing body has employed forceful measures to suppress protests, resulting in the surveillance and forced disappearance of demonstrators and advocates. Additionally, they have reinstated the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, an entity from their previous regime that had enforced restrictions on activities seen as contrary to Islamic principles. In November 2022, they directed judges to enforce their particular interpretation of Islamic law; subsequently, there was a resurgence of public whippings and executions carried out by the authorities. 


Women protest Taliban’s decision to cancel the return of high school-aged girls to the classroom, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 26, 2022 – The New York Times


Amidst an oppressive regime such as this, Afghan women resiliently defy erasure, their struggle echoing a universal quest for dignity and rights. Global dissent against the Taliban’s violations fuels conferences and alliances, yet media silencing and curtailed freedoms persist. Despite all this, Afghan women’s unwavering spirit shines as a beacon of hope amid the shadows of oppression. 


Written by Vanshika Jain for MTTN

Edited by Yoihen Elangbam for MTTN

Featured Image by Aviral Malik for MTTN




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