The Prevailing Quandary Of Women Rights In Afghanistan

Jasleen Bedi, University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh

Indraprastha University and Naman Khatri, Advocate.

Women gather to demand their rights under Taliban rule during a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan

Image Source: Wali Sabawoon/AP Images ©


The protection of the rights of women has always remained an alarming concern in Afghanistan.  Deep-rooted patriarchal structures, religion-based fundamentalism, and all-prevailing insecurity have perennially threatened the basic rights of women. For instance, the resurgence of the strong influence of the Taliban in the governance of the country has threatened to abrogate laws safeguarding basic rights and leave the women of Afghanistan susceptible to tyranny and defenseless in the face of grotesque violence. Several important developments took place in the last few decades starting from the movements to render women their right to vote to the period of Afghanistan’s ‘Golden Age’ (1963-1973) wherein women empowerment was hailed. Despite this being the major catalyst leading to the grant of constitutionally guaranteed rights to Afghan women, enactment of Elimination of Violence Against Women Law, ratification of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2003, such laws and policies have still faced significant impediments in practice. With the Taliban takeover, basic women's rights and civic space seem to be in jeopardy. The Taliban’s policies on rights and freedoms have been ambiguous and women continue to come across gender-based discrimination and violence throughout Afghanistan.

Status Quo Under The Taliban Regime: A Political Perspective     

The actions of the Taliban often have been at odds with their rhetoric of pledging respect for women’s rights. They reaffirmed to adopt a more ‘moderate’ approach such as vowing to respect women and restore their rights but distressingly, since the usurpation, the Taliban have in practice deprived women of their basic rights with their repressive policies. They imposed movement restrictions, coerced women to leave their jobs and further have denied them adequate opportunities in decision-making roles in the government. Not just the Taliban's but also a major fraction of Afghan society appears to be turning more conservative and patronising towards women who have been systematically marginalised for a long time due to the already robust prevalence of customs and traditions inhering patriarchal ideas, high rate of illiteracy in the society which has been further exacerbated with the growing influence of the armed group. A recent UN study reflected that only 15 percent of Afghan men believe in encouraging women to work outside their homes and two-thirds resent granting them rights or quotas in the parliament.

A vignette of the kaleidoscopic aspects of the Taliban’s repressive policies in the political sphere includes the formation of an all-male cabinet which is a major cause of worry. It includes members from the ranks of militants but includes no mention of a single woman or any ministry of women. Moreover, the existing ministry of women’s affairs has been replaced with the Ministry for promotion of virtue and prevention of vice. Another aspect relates to the announcement of a mandatory dress code for women enrolled in colleges or private institutions. Taliban regime has successfully attempted to quell dissent by women and has resorted to the use of whips to mitigate proliferating resistances against the formation of an all-male interim cabinet. This can result in significant adverse repercussions on the society inhering complete abrogation of rights as is evident from the fact that women are not even allowed to leave their homes or work or participate in decision-making which can further erode their status in the societal structure along with leading to an increase in fear, insecurity, grotesque inequality and the ever-looming threat of violence in society. 

Violent Atrocities Against Women And Girls     


With the growing influence of Talibans, fears of women have reached a crescendo as they continue to experience abuses, rigorous punishment for apparent transgression of the armed regime’s interpretation of Islamic law and violation of their right to freedom of assembly and expression with impunity. Moreover, women are reluctant to file complaints and are pressured to resort to mediation in order to resolve disputes. Formidable obstacles like family pressure, financial dependence, fear of reprisals hinder their will to register cases. Under the Talibans, conflict and destitution in the society has led to a perpetually vicious cycle of underage marriages and subsequent instances of domestic violence. The regime has often resorted to oppression and has denied even the most fundamental individual rights by perpetrating appalling acts of violence. In the absence of investigation into the abuses hurled at women, there seems to be a real risk of calamitous human costs and further degradation of the prestige and position of women in the society in the long run.

Restrictions On Access To Education And Healthcare     

It is often said that elimination of women’s access to education is a direct assault on women tomorrow. Restrictions imposed by the Taliban insurgency in the education sector including the segregation of women i.e. barring co-education can result in significant consequences. Female teachers, administrators and students have prepared themselves for newer restrictions. Moreover, working conditions for female medical staff have been abysmal and the quality of the healthcare system in the country is still far below the international standards. Furthermore, the main threat to the healthcare sector is also the lack of funding by other governments especially the international donors. Alarming concerns have been raised that the promulgation of extremely restrictive and conservative laws might end up in limiting the role of women in the society.

Violations Under International Humanitarian Law     

The presence of armed conflict in Afghanistan comes under the ambit of a non-international armed conflict as per the International Humanitarian Law. In addition to this, Afghanistan has ratified the Additional Protocol of the Geneva Conventions regarding the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II). Therefore, the Taliban being a non-state armed group has to abide by Article 3 (pertaining to irreducible rights guaranteeing humane treatment applicable to all affected by armed conflict) of the Geneva conventions along with the international law. The Taliban are also obliged under this purview to fully respect women’s rights.

However, distressingly, in the past as well as in the present times, the Taliban has violated these laws by continuing the dispensation of inhumane treatment, discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity and targeted attacks on women professionals, journalists, humanitarian workers and so on. The recent escalation of violence has hampered the regime’s commitment to women’s rights and visibility of women in the peace process which is the fundamental catalyst to achieve meaningful progress.

It thus becomes imperative that the current regime must uphold the international commitments made in the last two decades to ensure that all Afghans and especially women are able to live in a safe, equitable and peaceful society. This requires that all domestic legislations along with rules and regulations must stay in consonance with the International Law and the Human Rights Treaties to which Afghanistan is a signatory.

Call For Action By International Community And The Way Forward

In a statement on 24 August 2021, the G-7 countries stated that they shall work together with their allies and regional countries through the UN, G-20 in order to bring the international community together to acknowledge the crucial questions facing Afghanistan and to hold the Taliban accountable for their actions on preventing human rights violations towards women, girls along with on pursuing an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan.

However, the most important challenge facing the international community lies in reporting and having access to detailed information as to what is happening with regards to women rights in Afghanistan. In an effort to achieve this, the concerned governments must ensure the smooth and effective functioning of all institutions involved in human rights monitoring. The role of the United Nations in renewing its UNAMA mission can also play an integral role in careful documentation of rights abuses, safeguarding women's rights, and expediting the process of national reconciliation. By agreeing on certain indicators along with constant supervision, abuses against women can be ameliorated effectively.

Moreover, United Nations can take further crucial steps to improve the status quo such as urging the states to render special attention towards protection of human rights of women in Afghanistan, maintain a gender perspective in all aspects of their policies related to the country and most importantly appealing all the Afghan parties, in particular, the Taliban to ensure effective participation of women in every sphere be it civil, cultural, economic along with an equal right to be reintegrated in the employment sector and repeal all legislative measures discriminating against women and girls and thereby, removing all impediments in the realisation of their basic rights.

Views expressed are the author’s own, 

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