Sandra de la Riva is a sociologist researcher and translator working in the development of human rights.
Between 1996 – 2001, Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban, an Islamic military organization(1). Throughout their rule, many feared the group due to its extreme Islamic Sharia law and bloody disciplinary actions for those who did not follow it. This group's strict regulations gave women little to no rights. Having little rights, women were not permitted to leave their homes unaccompanied, in public they had to always be with a male figure—this meant women were predominantly confined to their homes. In 2001, after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on September 11th, the US and other Western troops entered Afghanistan, bringing the Taliban rule to a halt, giving women more rights and freedoms(2). After almost two decades of US forces being present, as well as training the Afghan military, the American government pulled out their troops. Taking advantage of the situation, on Sunday August 15th, 2021, Taliban forces took control of the capital city of Kabul, claiming themselves as the new government(3). With the memory of how the Taliban ruled before, the country has gone into panic. Thousands have tried to flee or have gone into hiding however, it is the women and their rights that are the most vulnerable. This can be shown by the fact that 80 percent of those who have tried to flee the country are women and children(4).
Sharia law is the Islam set of rules or “legal system” set upon by the Quran and the teachings of Mohammed called the “Sunnah(5).” The rules describe what actions are permitted, recommended, obligatory or banned within the religion of Islam. Additionally, the law places crimes and their punishments into three categories: Ta’zir, Qesas, Hudud(6). Depending on the category of the crime, the guilty are subject to different levels of punishment. For example, those found guilty of a “hudud” (serious crimes such as theft, alcohol consumption or unlawful sexual relations) can be stoned, have a limb removed, exiled or publicly executed. That being said, it is important to state that very few countries and communities undergo these types of extreme punishments and that Sharia law is executed differently in every community.
All Muslims are expected to follow these guidelines however, the way these laws are interpreted and enforced vary from country to country. For example, the way Sharia law is followed by Muslims in the UK is completely different from how the Taliban enforced it in Afghanistan. During the rule of the Taliban in the late 1990’s, Afghanistan was known for enforcing a strict, often bloody, Sharia law. Few women were allowed to work and after the age of 10, girls could no longer study. Furthermore, they could not access healthcare and had to wear a “boshiya” (a full body cover that also hides one’s face and head) in public(7). Additionally, music, videos, and television were banned, public executions were not uncommon, men were forced to grow their beards, and those who did not pray five times a day were beaten. In the UK, this is not the case. Women are free to go out in public alone with or without a burqa (head scarf) or a boshiya, they can easily divorce, work and go to school, and men are not forced to grow a beard. Men and women are free to live their lives as they wish—a freedom that Afghans did not have.
What Does This Mean for Women And Girls?
Since taking Kabul, Taliban officials have stated that they do not wish to take away Women’s Rights and that women and girls will still be allowed to work and go to school. They state that women will keep their liberties however, they must always wear a full body boshiya in public(8). Amidst these vows, the group has already declared that it plans to put a stop to mixed-gender education and make changes in women and minority rights that are “in line” with religious and cultural rules—the exact changes have yet to be defined and the group remains vague in their responses.
Driven by fear, women scurry to buy full body cover-ups, while prices surge due to the demand. Many women feel defeated, helpless, and abandoned by US forces. They shiver at the thought that all female gains within the country, from the past decades, will be erased. They worry they will not be able to continue their studies and be confined to their homes. Since the Taliban have taken rule, many female news anchors have not been on air, for fear of their safety(9). In response to what is to come, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has stated that, “International humanitarian law and human rights, especially the hard-won gains of women and girls, must be preserved.(10)” However, outside of Kabul, women are being forced to stay in their homes, and in July, one woman was killed for not having the means to provide food to 15 Taliban fighters(11). Taliban administrators urge that women will be safe and to not fear the new changes however, with unfavorable changes already occurring outside of the capital, women have little hope. It is unknown how the Taliban plan to rule the country nor what the future holds for the millions of vulnerable Afghan women.