Former US President George W. Bush made much of women’s rights, declaring in his State of the Union address in January 2002 that “today women of Afghanistan are free,” after “years as captives in their own homes,” when the Taliban forbade girls from going to school and women from working, wearing lipstick, or laughing out loud.
After two decades of the US’ presence in Afghanistan, the fear for the vulnerability of women’s rights and liberties resurfaced with the Taliban’s intensified attacks and their intention in forming an administration based on Islamic Sharia, leaving little or no room for democratic values and human rights discourse. After two decades of Washington’s investment of blood and treasure in the country, Afghan women still fall victim to the radical ideology of the Taliban, and fear having their social and political role restricted. To show mercy, the Biden administration announced 2,000 US visas for Afghan women, which could never alleviate their pain or suffering or resolve the issue fundamentally.
Women fear that the Taliban may enter with the same ideology as 1990s and force them to wear burqa, a head-to-toe covering, do not go out without male chaperons, abandon school, and stop playing an active role in social and political segments of the society.
The US is seeking to leave Afghan women in the lurch after two decades of struggle for their empowerment, advocacy of their rights and freedoms, and establishing institutions for their support. As of now, Washington is pulling out its troops without attention to the rights and freedoms of women and their fundamental rights – i.e. rights to life, liberty, and property.
Although Afghan women have called on the United States and its international allies to pay serious heed to their rights and freedoms and do not agree with unconditional withdrawal, but their concerns and demands were ignored. Currently, although the Taliban have intensified their attacks and shed the blood of Afghan soldiers and civilians, the US shows no concern. The people of Afghanistan were caught by surprise to see that the US’ narrative of advocating the rights and freedoms of women has been stopped suddenly and the US troops and its international allies are withdrawing their troops despite the Taliban escalated insurgency. In other words, notwithstanding the Taliban’s attacks, the US pays no attention to the violation of women’s rights and dignity and seeking exit anyway. Are they not concerned about the susceptibility of women’s rights and liberties?
It is self-explanatory that Afghan women have made great strides within the last couple of decades. There are now 3.5 million Afghan girls in school. Women are working in all sorts of fields: law enforcement, judicial system, cinema, robotics, etc. The health care system has been transformed, and life expectancy for Afghan women has increased by almost ten years. Women are active staff of the media.
The fear is that these gains will now be threatened. Since the peace agreement was signed between the Taliban leadership and the United States, there have been dozens of assassinations of judges, journalists, and human rights activists, as well as horrific bombings of a girls’ school, educational centers, and attack of Kabul University, in which scores of male and female students lost their lives or were amputated. But the US policymakers may seek to dress it up, to the Taliban, the American pullout is a victory. To women’s unmitigated chagrin, if the Taliban and the Afghan government resume the talks, amendment to the Constitution, which leaves no room for sexual discrimination, will be a controversial issue. The Taliban will bargain over curtailing the rights and liberties of women and restricting them within the framework of Sharia law, most probably based on the Taliban’s radical interpretation. Earlier, some female peace negotiators, in an op-ed, called on the international community and Afghanistan international allies not to abandon advocating the rights and freedoms of women. They called them to push for the preservation of decades-long achievements regarding women’s rights and press the Taliban not to bargain over undoing such achievements. With the return of the Taliban, Afghan women are apprehensive about their rights and freedoms and expect the UN and the world, including the United States and the European Union, not to succumb to the Taliban’s pressure or bargaining at the peace table about restriction of their rights. Afghan women never intend to backtrack. Hence, the international institutions and NGOs, which supported the rights and liberties of women and worked for their betterment, should not withdraw their support. Afghan women have to be supported to continue playing their social and political role in the community.