Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, September 24th, 2021

Narratives and Counter-Narratives about Women’s Liberalization

In the post-Taliban Afghanistan, the rights and liberties of women have been debated hotly. Afghanistan adopted a new constitution in 2004, which considered men and women as equal and left no room for gender discrimination. However, given the patriarchal nature of society, shifting from entrenched values will not be easily. Afghan women still encounter many barriers in the social and political fronts.
With the downfall of the Taliban regime, two narratives emerged regarding women’s rights and liberties. The then US President George W. Bush and NATO officials repeatedly made references to the oppression of women under the Taliban rule (1996–2001) to justify the U.S. military intervention as a war for the liberation of women. Nonetheless, a range of conservative groups used traditional mediums such as mosques as well as the Internet to protest against the social and legal liberalization, which they believed amounted to a “foreign cultural invasion.”
The Taliban also widely capitalized on the issue of women’s liberalization and sought to trigger public sentiment against the US military invention.
Worst of all, the Taliban punished Afghan women in desert courts in areas under their dominance with disregard to the Afghan national laws and constitution, which stipulates in Article 22, “Any kind of discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan shall be forbidden. The citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law.”
On the other hand, with the adoption of new constitution and emergence of women’s rights discourse, public opinion also gradually shifted toward accepting the role of women in public life. For example, the 2017 A Survey of the Afghan People of the Asia Foundation found that 72.39 percent of respondents agreed that women should be allowed to work outside their homes and 89.04 percent supported women’s right to vote in elections.
In 2009, President Karzai promulgated the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women through a presidential decree to provide legal protection to women against violence and forced and under-age marriage.
Notwithstanding these facts, violence against women continued in one way or another. Discrimination, harassment, and violence occurred at home and in the workplace, albeit in different ways; either overt brutality or cover threats. It indicated that constitutional guarantees and legal provisions do not automatically lead to implementation; and acknowledge that discrimination persists within the family and societal institutions. The gap between legislation, policy and practice remains a barrier.
A case in point is the provision of shelter to women who were fleeing family violence. For years, many NGOs provided safe shelters for victims of family violence in Kabul and other cities. These centers provided critical support to hundreds of women who fled abusive relationships and family violence. Some residents of these centers were charged with “moral crimes,” offenses that had little or spurious grounds in Afghanistan’s laws. In addition to the gender discriminations under Afghanistan’s security and justice systems, a number of conservative groups alleged that women’s shelters promoted foreign cultures and immorality. These perceptions were so widespread among conservative groups that in June 2012, Justice Minister Habibullah Ghalib outraged international donors and human rights groups by accusing the shelters of promoting immorality and prostitution.
The narratives and counter-narratives of women’s liberalization still continue in the country. There are a number of people who simply embrace the idea of women’s liberalization and the equality of men and women. But there are also some individuals who still resist against the idea of women’s liberalization and shows strong sensitivity towards women’s rights discourse.
Overall, in the post-Taliban administration, mainly after the adoption of new constitution, there has been a shift in the way of defining the role of women. Today, women are often portrayed as independent entities making free choices, breaking barriers and asserting their identity as equal partners – not only in the economic domain but also in social and political domains.
Meanwhile, Afghan women made great strides since then in social and political spheres. They hold high political positions in the post-Taliban administration. Now Afghan women are likely to try to maintain their achievements made after the collapse of the Taliban regime.
After all, the Taliban leadership has said that it has changed its mindset and ideology towards women and will accept their social and political activities in the society. It suggests that the group believes that their harsh ideology towards women will be no more acceptable to Afghan people, who embraced democratic principles and women’s equal role as men.