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Taliban: Women call out the ‘Gender Apartheid’

The Taliban’s rigorous patriarchal force is subjecting women in Afghanistan to unprecedented regression and destructive gender apartheid. Since assuming power in Afghanistan, the Taliban-led government has intensified its suppression of women's freedom and rights.

By barring women's participation in the workforce and stripping them of their right to education, the Taliban government has nailed the last nail in the coffin to topple any progress made to uplift them. As women are no longer allowed to hold jobs or have access to basic freedoms in the country, women's conditions in Afghanistan are dire and have reached an unprecedented level under the Taliban government.

Afghanistan's women have since made efforts to push the campaign to determine gender apartheid as a crime under international law. As the crime of "apartheid" under international law now only pertains to racial hierarchies, it does take into account the hierarchies based on gender. Through this campaign, they also seek to draw attention to the structural shortcomings of the current legal framework in combating discrimination against women.

The open letter to criminalise apartheid under international law was signed by notable signatories, including Shirin Ebadi, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize; Fawzia Koofi, the first female constable of the Afghan parliament; and Benafsha Yaqoobi, a commissioner of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

The letter's authors contend that the United Nations' 1973 definition of apartheid as "a crime against humanity," which was upheld by the 1998 Rome Statute, does not take into account what is occurring in Afghanistan and Iran.

Defining Gender Apartheid

The word "apartheid" comes from the Afrikaans word for "separate." It was first used to describe how White rulers discriminated against Blacks in South Africa from 1948 to the early 1990s.

Gender apartheid can be described as the economic and social discrimination of individuals based on their sex or gender. The rights of women and sexual minorities are severely restricted in several nations, including Afghanistan and Iran.

Since the Taliban takeover, women in Afghanistan have been barred from participating in the workforce, educational institutions, or the majority of public areas like parks and gyms.

The twice-lived catastrophe: How women in Afghanistan are experiencing Déjà Vu

The misstep that led to the Taliban takeover in August 2021 has had the biggest toll on women, whose existence is a witness to these atrocities. The conflict stretching over 44 years has left the country with a collapsing economy, impoverished living conditions, and a distorted administration.

There is a sense of déjà vu that has gripped the psyche as once again the Taliban has begun repressing women as they did in the 1990s. The gross violation of human rights, paired with the rigorous enforcement of the patriarchal model and interpretation of Islamic law, has pushed the limits of oppression that women in Afghanistan endure.

Since the takeover, the Taliban has made several blunders. Firstly, it lacked a strategy of governance, which led to a state of chaos. Furthermore, in their first year, they released more than thirty decrees and pronouncements that violated human rights and curtailed women’s independence.

The Taliban aimed to undermine the country's institutional and legal framework. Hence, the Ministry of Women's Affairs (MoWa) was attacked under such pretences because it stood as a symbol of women's equality. Furthermore, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which was crucial to the advancement and defence of women's rights in particular as well as human rights generally, was the second institution that the Taliban disbanded.

With such gradual dismantling of the nation, the Taliban went on to undermine the concept of human rights and wreaked havoc on the already miserable plight of Afghan women. By depriving Afghans of dignity, a necessity for a dignified life, the Taliban forces have enforced themselves as superior to others. The different institutions required for democracy and sound government were shut down, including the Election Commission, the Election Complaint Commission, the Constitution Oversight Commission, and others.

Earlier, the Afghan government had sought to establish a legal system that complied with the nation's commitments under international law. Equal rights for men and women were guaranteed by the new constitution, which was ratified in 2004. The word "women" appeared in the Afghan constitution for the first time in this version. Under this ratification, the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law made domestic abuse a crime for the first time.

However, renouncing the constitution, the Taliban Prime Minister called for the implementation of the “Law of God,” making Afghanistan the only country without a constitution.

In the reforms made in the last 20 years, women have been an integral part of them. They took office in various roles, including those of police officers, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges. To end violence against women, a special prosecutor's office was created.

However, as the Taliban took control, women in the system were not only ousted from their roles but that special office was also dissolved. In gatherings by the Taliban, women are no longer visible. But rather, as the Deputy Taliban Prime Minister said, they are “represented” by fellow men as they are no longer needed in the Jirga.

In their enterprise of dismantling the nation, the Taliban targeted schools, shutting down girls' schools and depriving 3 million girls of their right to education. While the schools for classes 1-6 and universities have opened, classes 6-7 remain shut down. Afghanistan is the only country in the world to ban secondary education for girls and has defended the move under an Islamic pretext.

The ban imposed on women's participation in the workforce has overwhelmed an already devastated healthcare system. Even though women are permitted to work in the health sector, enduring economic crises have led to a shortage of medical supplies and a scarce number of healthcare workers.

As the healthcare crisis worsens, women bear the outcomes of a chaotic administration. Maternal and infant mortality rates have risen under the Taliban. Stress, a poor diet, anaemia, an increase in domestic violence, and a lack of healthcare have all contributed to an increase in preterm births. Lack of access to reproductive health care and contraception forces women to have unsafe pregnancies and more children, thus escalating the poverty of already low-income families.

Taliban laws have strengthened patriarchy in the public and private spheres. Women's freedom of movement is now severely constrained. As the regime coerces them harder, Afghan women persist to defy the injustices and watch history repeat itself; the call for action reverberates louder than ever. 

Edited by- Adedamola Aresbegola

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