Earlier this month, a video showing a group of men sawing the heads off of female mannequins in a shop in Western Afghanistan went viral on social media. Agence France-Presse reported that this action was taken in response to new Taliban orders declaring that female life-sized figures, such as mannequins found in clothing stores, violate Islamic Law.
This is only one of the most recent examples of the larger concern for Women’s rights in Afghanistan. On the 13th November 2021, in a statement released by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, Fore says that she is “deeply concerned by reports that child marriage in Afghanistan is on the rise.” The return of the Taliban in August, the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing food crisis, and the current freezing winter has culminated in a devastating sequence of events for all those living in Afghanistan, but especially for those of the female population.
On Friday 3rd December, the Taliban published their so-called “decree on women’s rights”. Though the decree bans child marriage, stating that “no one can force a woman to marry by coercion or pressure”, it does not mention girls’ access to education or jobs. The Taliban have allowed minimal women, with the exception of medical professionals, to continue their work and troublingly, girls and young women have not been allowed to return to school beyond their elementary years. The UNICEF statement a month before highlighted how a lack of education for young girls is especially worrying as “education is typically the strongest defence against detrimental resorts like child marriage and child labour.” Girls who are then forced into marriage before the age of 18 are significantly less likely to continue their education.
Three weeks later, on the 26th of December, the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued new guidance on transportation. The guidance stated that women must be accompanied by a close male relative if travelling for more than 72km and vehicle owners must refuse rides to women not wearing headscarves.
Heather Barr, Human Rights Watch’s associate director of women’s rights, told the AFP news agency that this limits women’s freedom of movement, their ability to go to another city, do business, or leave if they are subjected to domestic abuse. Essentially, this is one step further towards “making women prisoners”.
Many believe that the Taliban’s so-called “decree on women’s rights” was published by the Taliban to project a moderate image internationally in a bid to restore suspended aid, and had no real intention of making a difference to the rights of Afghan women. But, the crisis in Afghanistan is only worsened by the lack of women in education and employment. With women making up 20% of the Afghan workforce, the Taliban’s move to limit women from working will cost their economy $1Bn. As we see desperate Afghan families consider forcing their young daughters into marriage as to receive a dowry, and children are being sold to pay off debts, it seems hard to see an end to this spiraling vortex of poverty.
The UN has warned that Afghanistan is on the brink of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and this situation is only set to get worse.
Written by: Poppy Pearce (Communications Intern)
Girls increasingly at risk of child marriage in Afghanistan. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.unicef.org website:
Taliban declares women “free,” but rights activists see little cause to celebrate. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.cbsnews.com website:
A Taliban ban on women in the workforce can cost economy $1bn. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.aljazeera.com website:
CNN, E. M. (n.d.). Taliban decree on women’s rights makes no mention of school or work. Retrieved from CNN website:
No long-distance travel for women without male relative: Taliban. (n.d.). Retrieved January 7, 2022, from www.aljazeera.com website: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/12/26/afghanistan-long-distance-travel-women-without-male-escort-taliban