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Monday, September 20, 2021

Strict dress code, denial of education and more: Life of women under previous Taliban rule

Through a skewed interpretation of the Sharia, Islamic law, Taliban chose to limit women’s movements, right to education and healthcare and went up to the extent of public executions in cases of deviations from the set rules.

Written by Utsav Basu |
Updated: August 19, 2021 11:32:16 am
A woman sits in front of her computer at an Internet cafe in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP File)

“The Islamic Emirate doesn’t want women to be victims,” were the words of Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, Tuesday. Later, in its first presser after entering Kabul in Afghanistan, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said “We are going to allow women to work and study. We have got frameworks, of course. Women are going to be very active in the society but within the framework of Islam.”

But within hours of such sketchy assurances, social media platforms were abuzz with videos showing different women groups holding placards and protesting the Taliban rule. In sheer show of courage, the clips show women shouting slogans and demanding equal rights while being surrounded by armed Taliban fighters.

The protests, albeit small in number till now, are not uncalled for, given that the earlier Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001 was ridden with oppressions on women in the backdrop of a staunch patriarchal set-up. Through a skewed interpretation of the Sharia, Islamic law, Taliban chose to limit women’s movements, right to education and healthcare and went up to the extent of public executions in cases of deviations from the set rules.

Afghan women, Afghanistan, Taliban takeover In this Aug. 10, 2021 file photo, an internally displaced woman from northern provinces, who fled her home due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, has her blood pressure taken after taking refuge in a public park in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)

Here’s a look back at how women were treated by the Taliban during their five-year stint in Afghanistan.

Restricted access to healthcare

Under a strict prohibition of male-female contact, the Taliban rule mandated segregation of patients and staff of the two sexes into different hospitals. A journal of American University Washington College of Law written by Stephanie Dubitsky in 1999 mentions how the healthcare crisis was affecting the women of Afghanistan.

Dubitsky wrote, “The single medical facility where women were permitted contained only 35 patient beds. Clean water, electricity, oxygen and surgical and diagnostic equipment were not available…Male doctors are severely limited in their ability to diagnose and treat female patients effectively because prohibitions on male-female contact prevent male doctors from lifting women’s burqas, touching women except through their clothing, or looking at women’s bodies. Because of these same restrictions, male dentists have suffered severe punishment, including beatings and imprisonments, for treating female patient’s teeth and mouths.”

Denial of education to women

Although the Taliban now claim that they are not opposed to education for women, in a 2002 ILSA Journal of International & Comparative Law, a report titled ‘The Invisible Women: The Taliban’s Oppression Of Women In Afghanistan’, the international association of law students stated, “Most educational opportunities offered to women and girls abruptly ended when the Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996.”

The report further added, “There are a few home based schools and schools in the rural areas of the country that operate secretly, offering limited educational opportunities to girls; however, they live under constant fear of severe punishment for disobedience of the Taliban’s law prohibiting educational facilities for females. It is reported that one teacher, who denounced the laws of the Taliban and insisted that she would continue to teach, was struck with a rifle butt, and then killed after being shot in the head and stomach. Her death was witnessed by her students, her husband, and her daughter.”

Afghan women, Afghanistan, Taliban takeover Internally displaced Afghan women from northern provinces, who fled their home due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, receive medical care in a public park in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. The extremist group that once stoned women and restricted their every move is now back in power. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Restriction on movement

Under the Taliban rule, women had to always be accompanied by male chaperone and were only allowed to board taxis with them. Any violation of this rule would result in beatings.

The ILSA journal noted, “This rule also presents another obstacle for women because… a substantial number of Afghan families are headed by widows, because the male members of the family have been killed fighting in Afghanistan’s many civil conflicts. Enforcement of this harsh and irrational rule results in women being forced to become even more isolated.”

Dress code

Although Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen Tuesday said burqas are not mandatory and clarified only hijabs are, the fear among women of Afghanistan is palpable as memories of public beatings and executions are still fresh in their minds.

During its earlier rule, the Taliban rule had a dress code for women. The rule prohibited women on the streets without burqas and if caught without one, they would be subjected to beatings on the streets.

Other oppressive rules

The ILSA journal notes an incident and says, “…a woman reportedly received a severe beating because she purchased ice cream from a street vendor and was eating it in public. The ice cream vendor was also beaten and jailed for selling the ice cream to an unchaperoned woman.”

It further noted, “A woman will also run the risk of receiving a beating if any part of her limbs is exposed underneath her burqa, for making noise, for being found on the streets without a male family member escorting her, or for simply being found on the street with an excuse that is unacceptable to the Taliban.”

What international human rights watchdogs noted

In 2020 and 2021, when the situation in Afghanistan started changing post USA’s announcement to pull back its troops in a phased manner, international human rights watchdogs were closely monitoring the situation and apprehensions on how women would be affected under the Taliban were cited in several reports.

In June 2020, Human Rights Watch in a report titled “You Have No Right to Complain” noted, “While in power in Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban’s rights record was characterized by systematic violations against women and girls; cruel corporal punishments, including executions; and extreme suppression of freedom of religion, expression, and education.”

This year, Amnesty International in a public statement titled ‘Afghan women’s rights on the verge of roll back as international forces withdraw and peace talks in stalemate’ said, “The Taliban has historically enforced harsh, discriminatory policies against women with the result of women being excluded from public life. When the Taliban were ruling the country from 1996 to 2001, women were denied their rights to education and accessing healthcare, and their right to freedom of movement was severely restricted, they could not appear in public without a close male relative, and were subject to harsh, disproportionate punishments even for minor “offenses”. Any deviation from the group`s set rules could be punished through public corporal punishment, or even death penalty or public execution.”

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