On August 30, 2021, the U.S. military ended 20 years of occupation and left Afghanistan. Today, the Taliban is back in power, and the hard-won freedoms that women enjoyed for less than two decades have all but vanished. Reporter Isobel Yeung dives deep into the current state of women in Afghanistan and how they live under their draconian Taliban rulers.
The Taliban is an Islamic fundamentalist group that emerged in Afghanistan in the early 1990s after a decade long war with the Soviets. Due to the trauma and displacement they experienced during the war, many Afghani freedom fighters found refuge in the hard-line religious beliefs and rhetoric the Taliban promoted. They slowly organized themselves, pacifying rural areas around the country, and by 1996, controlled the government.
From 1996 to 2001, Taliban leaders implemented their extreme and austere version of Sharia or Islamic law. They banned the practice of other religions, television, movies and music. The hardest hit were women and girls who were no longer allowed to work or get educated. They had to follow a strict dress code, completely covered via a burka. They were not allowed to take public transport and needed a male family member to accompany them when out in public. Women had zero rights and were entirely at the mercy of their husbands and other male family members.
That changed in 2001 when Americans occupied Afghanistan for hiding Osama Bin Laden. For 20 years, the Taliban were insurgents, battling against world troops and the newly installed and more democratic government. Women were now working and studying, even serving in government as politicians, judges and diplomats. But in 2021, just like the Soviets, the Americans lost control and fled.
The new government promised that women would be treated with respect and granted freedoms. However, the Taliban leaders seem to be erasing women & girls from public life again via gender-based discrimination & violence based on their interpretation of Sharia Law. There are no more women in government or judicial positions.
Women are no longer allowed to work except in exceptional cases (mostly medical positions), and girls aged 11 and up are longer in school. They also can't successfully report crimes against their person, such as spousal abuse, because the Taliban installed Sharia judges are biased against them. Yeung herself witnessed how a judge sided with an abusive husband who took an oath saying he did not hurt his wife vs the woman who had X-rays and medical reports to prove the abuse.
The situation has been made worse with the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country. Afghanistan's economy has ground to a halt due to the economic sanctions placed by the UN. Hundreds of children die daily due to malnutrition, while women and children alike have little to no access to medical and other health services. If they do survive, it seems that they face a bleak future, thus cementing Afghanistan's title as the "Worst place in the world to be a woman."