Regressive Backlash

Afghanistan’s descent into regressive policies and the suppression of women’s rights under the Taliban regime is a cause of grave concern.

By Mahreen Nazar | June 2023

Since the Taliban regime overtook Afghanistan in August 2021, the country’s record on women’s rights has witnessed a sharp decline. Despite initial promises to uphold women’s rights in line with Sharia law, the Taliban’s actions have resulted in severe restrictions, with women bearing the brunt of oppressive policies.

This article aims to analyze the current situation of women’s rights in Afghanistan, exploring the historical context of the struggle for gender equality in the country. Additionally, it delves into the consequences of the Taliban’s regressive policies on humanitarian aid and presents the dilemma faced by international actors in finding a way forward.

The struggle for women’s rights in Afghanistan has been a contentious and complex issue for over a century. The country had its early victories, granting women voting rights in 1919, ahead of many Western nations. However, progress has been marred by periods of resistance, reversals, and oppression. The current dire situation stems from the Taliban’s extreme interpretation of Islamic law and their disregard for the hard-fought gains made by Afghan women.

Afghanistan is now the only country in the world where teenage girls and women are systematically denied access to education, employment, and freedom of movement. The Taliban’s severe restrictions on women’s rights exacerbate the already existing humanitarian disaster caused by the reduction in foreign aid after their takeover. The ban on women working for humanitarian organizations has created obstacles in delivering aid to those in need and has further compromised women’s ability to secure their livelihoods.

The suspension of humanitarian work by organizations due to the Taliban’s restrictions reflects the fundamental principles of impartiality, humanity, and independence. However, this suspension also inadvertently affects the most vulnerable groups, particularly women and children. The responsibility for ensuring the well-being of the Afghan population lies with the Taliban, yet their policies hinder the support that could alleviate the suffering faced by their citizens.

The international community faces a dilemma in its response to the Taliban’s regressive policies. While condemnation is warranted and necessary, severing all engagement and aid could inadvertently harm those it seeks to protect. The European Union (EU), a long-standing partner of Afghanistan, has been actively involved in advancing women’s rights. It has continued to provide humanitarian aid and support civil society, albeit with modified terms of engagement.

The European Parliament closely monitors the situation and has recommended further action to support Afghan women and girls. International actors must strike a delicate balance between condemning the Taliban’s actions, exerting pressure for change, and ensuring that humanitarian assistance reaches those in need. A comprehensive approach that combines diplomatic efforts, economic incentives, and support for civil society is necessary to address the challenges faced by Afghan women.

Afghanistan’s descent into regressive policies and the suppression of women’s rights under the Taliban regime is a cause for grave concern. The restrictions placed on women’s education, employment, and freedom of movement have compounded the existing humanitarian crisis. International actors must navigate the complexities of engagement and condemnation, seeking avenues to protect and empower Afghan women while ensuring the delivery of vital humanitarian aid. By doing so, the international community can play a crucial role in supporting the Afghan people and striving for a future where gender equality is no longer a distant dream but a tangible reality.