What is life like for women in Afghanistan?
BACKGROUNDER | Severe restrictions on women show the new Taliban isn’t much different than the old one
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Just over two years ago, U.S. forces left Afghanistan, and the Taliban regained control of the country. The group’s leaders initially promised a less repressive regime than its first rule from 1996 to 2001. But increasingly severe restrictions on women show the new Taliban isn’t much different than the old one.
How does the government exercise control over women? After the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the Taliban quickly closed the country’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs and replaced it with the Ministry of Virtue and Vice, also known as the morality police. This ministry enforces an interpretation of Shariah that includes strict dress codes, public executions, and floggings.
Why did the Taliban recently limit travel? In late August, the Taliban minister for the propagation of virtue and prevention of vice, Mohammad Khalid Hanafi, banned women from visiting Band-e-Amir National Park, saying, “Sightseeing is not necessary, but hijab is mandatory.” The minister claimed women were refusing to wear their head coverings, known as hijabs, at the popular tourist destination.
What other restrictions has the Taliban imposed on women? Women and girls in Afghanistan are prohibited from education above the sixth grade. The Taliban minister of education said, “Girls in schools [are] obscene and immoral.” Women and girls may not participate in sports or visit parks, public baths, or sports clubs. Women are required to wear a hijab and cover their faces in public, and they may not travel more than 45 miles from home without a husband or a mahram, a close male family member—father, brother, or son—as escort. Male relatives of women found breaking the laws are themselves subject to arrest and punishment.
What else? Women are also banned from most professions, from appearing on television, and from receiving medical care from a male practitioner. Since women are also banned from practicing medicine, this makes access to healthcare for women virtually impossible. The government has also closed beauty salons and other primarily female-targeted services.
What effect have these laws had? The past two years have seen an increase in forced and underage marriages and domestic abuse. A recent report by The Guardian points to “a disturbing surge” in female suicides and attempted suicides since the Taliban took control in 2021 and suggests the country is one of the few where more women than men attempt to take their own lives. After 20 years of growing freedoms for women from 2001 to 2021, many women despair at the current situation and prefer death to the continued erasure of women from public society.
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