Following the Taliban’s political and national takeover of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, international players have turned their attention towards brokering, negotiating, or neutrally assessing the actions of the extremist group. At first, promises of a novel version of the Taliban had been disseminated through media organizations, along with the abject failure of the U.S to aid in stabilizing the region through post-conflict reconstruction.
However, recent media reports and campaigns led by Afghan women activists and allies from other countries, have shed light on the continued violence and abuse faced by minorities and vulnerable groups in the region, either at the hands of the Taliban, or those competing against it.
The Taliban employs a narrow, dogmatic interpretation of Sharia Law. Its ideology is rooted in ritualistic practices that draw a thick line between what is permitted and what is not. This is particularly noted through its re-establishment of the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, an institution designed to police the citizens’ behavior.
After taking territorial control of Kabul in September 1996, the Taliban established a Saudi-influenced Wahabi emirate. Under their rule, women were restricted from traveling outside their houses and were routinely subjected to kidnappings, forced child marriages, and killings. Cultural artifacts of the religious minority were destroyed and widespread habitual acts of capital punishment were a common occurrence.
Following the renewed takeover of the Taliban in 2021, reports of attacks on minorities have emerged from the ground. Last month, two mosques, inhabiting the minority ethnic Hazara Shias of the region were bombed by the Islamic State of Khorasan, a regional rival player eager to further sectarian divide. There is speculation that the Taliban’s lack of intervention in the same will embolden international terrorist groups into engaging in further violent extremist acts against the minorities.
Additionally, few factions of the Taliban have stopped girls and women from engaging in socio-political activities, limited their movement, and employed structural roadblocks to ensure their subservient standing in the region. For the international community observing the developments taking place in the country, this is a crucial moment in time.
Our aim is to provide policy recommendations to relevant stakeholders for putting pressure on the current, interim, hardliner government through a sustained campaign of including the protection of Hazaras, women, Hindus, Sikhs, and other marginalized groups and the subsequent acceptance of their status as refugees in international countries. Now, more than ever, the Afghan people face the possibility of the extinction of their culture, ethnicity, race, and identity at the hands of an extremely volatile group.
The Young Afghan Women Movement has identified the following challenges:
The catastrophic events in Afghanistan have led to human rights abuses amid dangerous conditions, specifically against Afghan women and girls under the Taliban regime. It is imperative that the international community come together to form an enduring approach towards addressing these abuses.
Women have been subjected to the erosion of spaces in the workplace, through loss of employment opportunities and the potential collapse of small-scale, women-owned businesses. The country has seen eighty percent of women experiencing domestic abuse, with a simultaneous decrease in shelters that could provide a safe space for them.
With the economy under collapse, the societal structure has undergone a regressive change in its practices, through forced marriage or child marriage through financial compensation. This can act as a deterrent against women involved in grass-roots level work, as there is an increasing emotion of uncertainty growing at this time.
The Taliban’s rigid marginalization of women has been reflected in their absence from holding offices under the current interim government. Although civil society representatives and international countries like the U.S have repeatedly highlighted the discriminative practices, sustained pressure through dialogue must be undertaken. Additionally, the U.S can provide a conditional removal of sanctions, based on the regime’s mobilization and upliftment of Afghan women.
In the current political scenario, the Young Afghan Women Movement believes there exists a one-dimensional approach towards women’s rights in Afghanistan. For instance, there has been an unequal distribution of institutional and social development for urban and rural Afghan women in the past century. Women in rural areas continue to depend on male actors for food, clothing, and shelter and are often subjected to the fate of being widows due to intense civil wars between the Taliban and opposing militias.
In this sense, “peace” is a varied term for both parties. While women with better social and political privileges advocate for the complete dismissal of the Taliban government, women in lesser developed areas prefer to negotiate with certain individual freedoms to keep the collective idea of peace.
The Young Afghan Women Movement understands the intricacies of taking such stances and its subsequent consequences on the rest of the populace. However, being unresponsive to such conflicts can only exacerbate the marginalization of women in men-dominated spaces. There needs to be an implementation of the bottom-up approach, where different tribal groups are vetted through social interactions.
The UN Women’s continued support towards Afghan women and children is crucial to harness. Civil society organizations involved in humanitarian aid must also provide relevant data to document the long-standing effects of the conflict. Since the current regime requires international and diplomatic legitimacy among the countries, the allies of the Afghan people must continue to push for the visible representation of women in the social, political, and economic sectors.
For the international community, mere efforts towards De-mobilization, Disintegration, and Reintegration (DDR), don’t take away the potential of violent extremism in Afghanistan. Furthermore, due to the country’s dependency on external actors for economic gains, the international community must use these spaces to reinforce relevant developments with reference to the local context.
There is a need to create an alternative narrative of inclusion and diversity of ethnicities, especially at a time when all previous theories regarding the region have failed. The dominant community of Afghanistan should not be a reference point for the allies as the axis of discussions. The Young Afghan Women Movement is committed to providing a holistic interpretation of the events, along with the nuanced challenges that can be tackled for a more peaceful future for Afghan women.