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Afghanistan at risk of institutionalized gender apartheid

Thousands of women at risk over extreme restrictions UNAMA reports

By: Beth Templeton

Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan two and a half years ago, they have restricted the rights of women and girls significantly. According to a new report released by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), these restrictions are set to get even more severe; with a focus on single, unmarried women. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described the latest bans as ‘horror’.

The report outlines that in the last quarter of 2023, hundreds of Afghan women were forced to quit their jobs, alongside being arrested and denied access to essential services. Furthermore, women were arrested for purchasing contraceptives, and it was reported that unmarried female staff at a healthcare clinic were advised to get married, or risk losing their jobs. These restrictions highlight the Taliban's view that it is inappropriate for women to be unmarried, and moreover, if a woman is unmarried they should have a mahram- a male chaperone, in public. 


Furthermore, the enforcement of a hijab decree has become stricter, with the report highlighting an increase in women who had been arrested in Kabul and other places for wearing the hijab ‘incorrectly’ in mid-January. Girls as young as sixteen were reported to be detained and described lashings and beatings by the authorities with claims they were encouraging others to not wear their hijab, and wear makeup.


UNAMA have further noted that the authorities are also infringing on the right to freedom and expression by limiting the opportunity of not only women, but everyone to seek knowledge and explore information and ideas. 


On the 14th of December, the Taliban Ministry of Higher Education issued a letter, denoting that all universities and private education institutions must remove books which are considered against the laws of Hanafi jurisprudence ( the largest of the traditional schools of Islamic jurisprudence ). This included books relating to any opposing beliefs, political parties, or any books authored by those associated with the government the Taliban overtook. 


These restrictions are shown to be causing a mental health crisis among Afghan women and girls. Data collected from August 2021, compared to August 2022, has shown a sharp increase in the number of women committing or attempting suicide which has been directly related to the restrictive policies put in place by the Taliban. Maria Malikzada, was a 25 year old studying to be a lawyer when restrictions first came in place from the Taliban, she was ‘forced into marriage’ with her fiancée after restrictions were in place and she has described her now;‘I’m empty. No goal, no job.’ , 


While it is unsure where this situation goes next, there is concern over what is being coined as “soft normalisation” of the Taliban regime. Countries surrounding such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have begun to move forward with establishing ties to the Taliban. This only causes an escalation of repression and it seems the situation for women and girls seems likely to get worse. 


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