Taliban ‘rolling back’ rights for Afghan women and girls in 32 areas, say human rights experts

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Education, employment and access to healthcare are among the areas of concern, according to Human Rights Watch

Taliban ‘rolling back’ rights for Afghan women and girls in 32 areas, say human rights experts

The Taliban are “rolling back” rights for women and girls in at least 32 different areas, according to a new list compiled by Human Rights Watch (HRW). 

While restricting access to education has been the most high profile abuse, discrimination is taking place systematically across women’s lives, HRW said.

Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division acting director Heather Barr, a leading expert on Afghanistan, said the Taliban was violating the rights of women and girls across a number of categories, including: education, employment, freedom of movement, dress, gender-based violence, access to healthcare, and sport. 

The list in more detail runs from the closure of almost all of the country’s women’s shelters, for those fleeing domestic violence, to banning women from seeing male healthcare professionals, dramatically restricting their access to healthcare.

A key concern is over freedom of movement. When the Taliban was last in power in Afghanistan, between 1996 and 2001, they had a policy that women could only leave their homes if accompanied by a mahram, or male member of their family. 

This has not officially become the policy nationally, but HRW research with women in the city of Herat last week showed that it was being enforced at random by Taliban officials and fighters on the streets. 

Lots of categories of Taliban abuses against women/girls to cover: general, education, employment, freedom of movement, dress, gender-based violence, access to health care, and sport. We’re making a list. Here we go.— Heather Barr (@heatherbarr1) September 28, 2021

Halima Kazem-Stojanovic, of the San Jose State University Human Rights Institute – who worked on the Herat report with HRW – said: “The experience of women in Herat raises grave concerns about the extent to which the Taliban leadership in Kabul is able or willing to control the actions of their members across the country on human rights, including women’s rights.

“Claims by Taliban leaders to respect women’s rights will be meaningless if women and girls have to live in constant fear of abuse by the Taliban on their street.”

HRW’s acting director of the women’s rights division, Heather Barr, told The Telegraph that the uncertainty over the rules combined with the fear of what might lie ahead were combining to effectively imprison women. 

“I think women just feel like prisoners. They feel like they are not safe outside their homes. They don’t know what the rules are, but it’s clear that wherever their dreams were, they are now gone,” she said. 

We’re keeping a list of new Taliban policies and actions that constitute systematic violations of women’s rights under international law. Thirty-two things on the list so far.— Heather Barr (@heatherbarr1) September 22, 2021

The list continues: for example, there are no female members in the Taliban’s cabinet, and while the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has disappeared from government, the Ministry of Vice and Virtue – now the Ministry of Guidance and Call, and better known as the morality policy – is back.

Women have also been harassed by Taliban fighters in Herat for not wearing gloves and banned from playing sport; and the system to tackle gender-based violence, alongside the laws to tackle it, has effectively collapsed, Ms Barr said. 

Despite the risks, many brave women have protested, despite bans, beatings, and harassment. 

Working women also face an uncertain future, with The Taliban dismissing all of the female employees in the Kabul government other than those deemed irreplaceable, such as the women cleaning the female toilets. Female lawyers and journalists have also faced harassment, including one lawyer who said her house had been dotted with bullets.

Actions like these were powerful, said Ms Barr. 

“The Taliban’s record of past and current brutality means they can threaten in a whisper,” she said. 

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