Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan under the Taliban

Under Taliban rule, women's rights have been systematically suppressed, suffocating every aspect of their lives.
Image: Renew Europe

The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan some two years ago has marked a devastating setback for women’s rights in the country. The severity of the situation is highlighted by a joint report by Richard Bennett, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, and Dorothy Estrada-Tanck, Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls. Their report unequivocally states that women and girls in Afghanistan are enduring extreme discrimination that amounts to gender persecution and can be characterized as gender apartheid. In this article I want to describe the harrowing realities faced by Afghan women and emphasize the urgent need for international intervention.

Systematic Suppression of Women’s Rights

Under Taliban rule, women’s rights have been systematically suppressed, suffocating every aspect of their lives. The Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islamic law has led to the banning of women from attending schools, working in NGO offices, and participating in public office and the judiciary. The above-mentioned joint report states that “women and girls in Afghanistan are experiencing severe discrimination that may amount to gender persecution – a crime against humanity – and be characterised as gender apartheid, as the de facto authorities appear to be governing by systemic discrimination with the intention to subject women and girls to total domination”.  These restrictions not only curtail women’s personal freedoms but also hinder the progress of Afghan society as a whole. Education is a vital tool for empowerment and social advancement, and by denying women access to education, the Taliban is ensuring the perpetuation of gender inequality and limiting the country’s potential for development.

The Taliban’s oppressive policies also extend to the economic sphere, where women’s ability to work and contribute to their families’ livelihoods has been severely curtailed. By excluding women from the workforce, the Taliban is not only depriving them of financial independence but also undermining the overall economic growth and stability of Afghanistan. It is essential for the international community to recognize the significance of economic empowerment for women and advocate for inclusive economic policies that enable Afghan women to participate fully and contribute to the rebuilding of their nation.

Brutal Imposition of Punishments

The Taliban’s harsh interpretation of Islamic law has resulted in the brutal imposition of punishments on women. Stoning, lashing, and amputation have become tools of intimidation and control. These cruel practices not only cause physical harm but also instill fear among women, effectively silencing their voices and perpetuating a climate of oppression. The international community must condemn such barbaric acts and take decisive action to protect the fundamental rights and dignity of Afghan women.

The brutal punishments imposed by the Taliban serve as a chilling deterrent to women who dare to challenge the status quo. By subjecting women to such inhumane treatment, the Taliban aims to enforce conformity and maintain a patriarchal power structure. The international community must make it clear that such actions are unacceptable and stand in direct violation of universally recognized human rights principles. Sanctions, diplomatic pressure, and targeted assistance should be employed to hold the Taliban accountable for their egregious violations and work towards dismantling the culture of fear that prevails in Afghanistan.

Widespread Restrictions on Women’s Rights

The Taliban’s edicts have imposed widespread restrictions on the rights of women and girls, encompassing various aspects of their lives. From curbing their freedom of movement and dictating their attire and behaviour to limiting their access to education, healthcare, and justice, Afghan women find themselves trapped in a web of oppressive regulations. This should be recognised for what it is, a form of apartheid, gender-apartheid.

The freedom of movement is a basic human right that enables individuals to pursue education, employment, and opportunities for personal growth. By restricting women’s mobility, the Taliban effectively confines them to their homes, stripping them of agency and autonomy. This not only hampers their ability to access essential services but also perpetuates their reliance on male relatives, further exacerbating gender inequality.

The Taliban’s imposition of strict dress codes and behavioural expectations further reinforces the notion that women’s bodies and actions must be controlled. Such restrictions infringe upon women’s right to self-expression and individuality, reducing them to mere objects subjected to societal norms and expectations. The international community must advocate for the freedom of expression and choice, encouraging Afghan women to reclaim their identities and challenge the oppressive norms imposed upon them.

Access to education, healthcare, and justice is vital for the well-being and empowerment of women. The Taliban’s restrictions in these areas deny women their basic rights, leaving them vulnerable and marginalized. Education is not only a means to acquire knowledge but also a tool for empowerment and social change. By denying women access to education, the Taliban perpetuates a cycle of ignorance and dependence. Similarly, limited access to healthcare and justice denies women essential services and denies them recourse in cases of abuse or discrimination.

The Taliban’s treatment of women in Afghanistan is nothing short of a gender apartheid, as characterized by experts in the field. Afghan women, who were making significant strides towards empowerment and equality over the past two decades, now face an uncertain and perilous future. Their rights and freedoms have been erased, and their voices have been silenced by a regime that is inherently anti-women. According to the UN, around 80% of girls and young women of school age are not in education.  This systematic suppression of women’s rights, brutal imposition of punishments, and widespread restrictions on their freedoms demand urgent attention from the international community. Efforts must be made to protect their rights, provide aid and support, and hold the Taliban accountable for their actions. Only through collective action can we hope to restore justice, dignity, and equality for the women of Afghanistan and prevent a humanitarian crisis from further deepening. The time to act is now.


A decades old patron of New Age Islam, Dr Adis Duderija is a Senior Lecturer in the Study of Islam and Society, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science ; Senior Fellow Centre for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue, Griffith University | Nathan | Queensland | Australia.

Courtesy: New Age Islam



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