Girls’ rights in Afghanistan : the compromised future of a whole gender

After the withdrawal of the US military troops, Afghan women and girls have seen their rights radically reduced. The strict interpretation of Islam that Talibans apply leave no more hope for the next female generation, deprived of education, freedom and dignity.
Young Afghan girl attends school
“Young Afghan Girl Attends School” by United Nations Photo

11th October sketches a significant path in rights and gender equality all around the world, as it is the International Day of the Girl Child. Concerned by their own rights since birth, little girls have always been dreaming of new horizons, previously drawn for men. Therefore, a large number of feministic demonstrations have exploded in the last few years, gathering women of all ages, independently of their social positions. However, the freedom that girls and women won over the last forty years seems to be threatened in some regions, especially in the Middle East. 

Back in black 

Three months after the Taliban’s takeover, the daily situation in Afghanistan is slowly changing for its inhabitants. Even though the new leaders of the country assured a peaceful transition to the international community, the reality looks completely different. Numerous cases of human rights violations were reported across the country, including house searches of members of civil society, targeted murders, disappearances and restrictions on the freedom of movement, work and education of women and girls, in a general climate of fear and violence. Given the Taliban’s human rights record and the precarious situation in the country, human rights defenders, journalists and members of civil society (especially women and children) are particularly vulnerable and in danger. 

The harsh rules that Taliban strictly follow leave no place for women in their male-based society. When the authoritarian group came back to Kabul mid-July, they did not hide their intention to apply the Sharia law, word-by-word. Thus, the young Afghans girls seem to lose the rights their mothers have struggled to get during the last twenties, just after the previous reign of the Taliban, between 1996 and 2001. 

Cerebral decline 

One of the main banner calls of the Afghans girls lies in education. Since 2001, their career possibilities have taken off in various fields. Until that year, most of them weren’t allowed to work or study. Exercising as a nurse was one of the most common allowed courses. But as soon as they were permitted to reach higher studies, they got more highbrow jobs like journalists, doctors or scientists. Those successful women – often single – are now threatened with losing their jobs and the money they require to live. 

When they seized power, the Taliban directly restricted access to education; although keeping primary schools open for girls between 7 and 13 years old. In mid-September they announced the reopening of secondary schools; however, they avoided mentioning “adolescent girl”. The regime stated that only boys would attend the classes, ruining two decades of advances in women’s rights and demonstrating that their allegations of a government more inclusive were a facade. Without the girls, the desks of Afghan high schools will once again be filled with students of only one gender: the male one, showing that the new Taliban regime continues to operate under the same fundamentalism and against women, as it did more than twenty years ago. Banning access to education for girls leaves a significant number of uneducated girls who see their life dreams ruined. 

Moreover, according to their single-sex ideology, they imposed that no woman teach a male classroom. Therefore, a lot of teachers also have lost their jobs and are now hidden at home, worried about the future. 

Strict Oversight 

When arriving to power and introducing the government, the Taliban announced the return of the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Under the previous Taliban’s era, this institution was responsible for strictly enforcing Islamic law, for example its officers patrolled the streets, forcing businesses to close during prayer time or expelling girls from school. With its return, young women are constantly getting policed back again in their daily routine. 

In early September, an official spokesperson from the Taliban Cultural Commission announced that women will now be banned from practising sports; the reason given was that the athletes’ outfits would expose women’s bodies too much. In fact, Islam requires them to wear the full veil in their daily life. All parts of the body, including the eyes, should be covered. Therefore in Kabul, many people had to rush in shops to buy a chabari for the first time. This is a sine qua non condition to go out. 

Several other questions remain unanswered; among them the right of women to go out without company. They must be escorted by a mahram – a male family member – when going outside. However, few women, and even fewer young girls, dare to leave their homes for fear of being killed. Disobeying any of those rules results in being arrested and strongly punished. In the 90s, the penalties inflicted ranged from flogging to stoning in public places. 

Shady wedding business 

In Afghanistan, the most worrying remains the fate reserved for female citizens who reach adolescence. As of their first period, the teenagers are seized from their mother by the Talibans to marry them by force to the combatants. In the provinces of Badakhshan and Takhar, the authorities even register all the girls over 15 via social networks in order to arrange their marriages. Talibans abuse these lists to recruit new soldiers. By promising young virgins, they hope that men will join their ranks and enroll in the army. 

This war-oriented strategy clearly terrorized girls that are torn overnight from their families against their will. This kind of practice is no longer related to marriage but definitely represents sexual enslavement. According to article 27 of the Geneva Convention, forcing girls to become sex slaves, under cover of marriage, constitutes a war crime, but also a crime against humanity. 

Accordingly, lots of women are trying to escape the country towards Pakistan or Tajikistan in order to protect their daughters. Not to be seen without a man outside, some families have even paid thousands of dollars to single men to marry off their female relatives. Or, at least, to pose as her husband. The ones who tried to reach a foreign frontier alone have been escorted back on Afghan soil. 

Dark is dark 

Washington has left Afghanistan with the Taliban in power, the same fundamentalists that the US toppled in the first months of the armed mission. Its departure from Afghanistan has cast a shadow over the Middle East. The rights that women and girls had achieved, all the efforts made to guarantee them effectively, the advances that had been made could disappear overnight. Already, between 1996 and 2001, they became ghosts, shadows. After having overcome this disastrous situation, that nightmare could return once again. Promises are done, but the clock keeps spinning.


to seize = saisir, s’emparer de

overnight = du jour au lendemain

flogging = flagellation

highbrow = savant, cultivé, de haut niveau

withdrawal = retrait

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