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Taliban Vow to Defend Women’s Rights Under Islamic Law

Members of Afghanistan's Powerful Women Movement gather outside Jamhuriat Hospital in Kabul on March 8, 2022, after Taliban officials prohibited them from donating blood.

The Taliban pledged Tuesday to protect the rights of women in Afghanistan under Islamic law to mark International Women’s Day, even as critics decried the erosion of human rights since the Islamist group retook control of the country nearly seven months ago.

“The Islamic Emirate is committed to upholding the Sharia rights of all Afghan women,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a tweet. The hardline group calls its interim government in Kabul the Islamic Emirate.

“International Women's Day is a great opportunity for our Afghan women to demand their legitimate rights. We protect and defend the rights of our Afghan women, God willing,” he added.

The Taliban had banned women from education and work, among other severe human rights violations, when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, leading to the global isolation of the South Asia nation.

The group has attempted to portray a reformed image, however, since seizing power from the now-defunct Western-backed Afghan government in August. Taliban leaders repeatedly have since assured the international community they would respect women’s rights and would give them access to education, as well as work.

But rights groups reject the Taliban claims and accuse the group of cracking down on human rights, particularly those of women. They say the men-only insurgency-turned-government has rolled back women’s rights in almost every area, including crushing women’s freedom of movement.

FILE - Roya, an embroidery teacher who lost her job after the Taliban took power, walks through the entrance gate of her residence in Kabul, Jan. 24, 2022.
FILE - Roya, an embroidery teacher who lost her job after the Taliban took power, walks through the entrance gate of her residence in Kabul, Jan. 24, 2022.

Human Rights Watch noted in a statement issued in connection with International Women’s Day that women are not allowed to share transportation with men or take long trips without a close male relative. Taxi drivers are told not to provide a ride to female passengers who are not wearing hijabs. Most Afghan girls’ secondary schools have been closed, and women are banned from most paid employment.

“Several countries proudly claim a ‘feminist foreign policy.’ But the international response to these developments has lacked urgency, and there is little sign of an effective coordinated plan to protect the rights of Afghan women and girls,” lamented the global rights defender. “On the contrary, governments pandered to the Taliban by sending all-male delegations to meet them,” the statement says.

The United Nations said Tuesday that combined with entrenched gender inequality and discrimination, women in Afghanistan are “disproportionately” affected by a legacy of conflict, drought, and a collapsing economy.

“Everyone in the country is affected by the current crises, but the situation for women and girls is particularly concerning as their rights and access to opportunities have become increasingly challenged,” lamented Deborah Lyons, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Amnesty International is urging the world to stop the Taliban’s suppression of women’s and girls’ rights.

“More than 80,000 global supporters and activists have signed a petition calling on the international community to urgently stand up for women’s rights in Afghanistan and hold the Taliban accountable for their unrelenting suppression of women and girls’ rights," Amnesty said on International Women’s Day.

A report submitted Monday to the United Nations Human Rights Council finds the human rights situation for many Afghans has worsened since the Taliban returned to power, noting that actions taken by de facto authorities have curtailed women’s rights and freedom.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who presented the report, said people perceived by the Taliban to be a threat, including human rights defenders and media workers, have been killed, arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared.

No government has yet recognized the Taliban as the legitimate leaders of Afghanistan, citing human rights and terrorism concerns, along with a lack of political inclusivity in the interim government the hardline group has installed in Kabul.

For their part, the Taliban reject all allegations against their interim government. Despite financial constraints, the group says it has opened all universities to women students across Afghanistan, and it intends to allow all girls to return to school later this month. The Taliban defend separate classrooms for male and female students, as well as other restrictions on women, saying they are in line with Islamic principles.