What The US Withdrawal In Afghanistan Means For Womxn's Rights In The Middle East
We’ve all seen the harrowing footage of Afghan citizens trying to flee the country on a military plane at Kabul Airport, a true travesty for human rights. However, the unfolding situation in Afghanistan, caused by the end of America’s 20-year mission in the country, is especially horrible for womxn.
Now that US troops have left, the country is now back under the control of the Taliban, a religious, political, and military organization that believes in Sharia law. The Taliban has a horrendous history of denying womxn’s rights, with a strict regime that severely punishes anyone who doesn't follow their orders. After two decades of freedom, womxn in Afghanistan are now facing the horrible reality of a return to Taliban rule, which first began in 1996.
While some womxn and families were able to evacuate on rescue flights and apply for humanitarian visas to live elsewhere, hundreds of thousands more were left behind. So how will the US withdrawal in Afghanistan impact womxn? Here’s what the experts are saying, plus what you can do to help.
Life under oppressive Sharia law
First: what is Sharia law, exactly? This term refers to Islamic law, as outlined in the holy book known as the Quran. It explains how Muslims can live an honest, ethical life, but many religious groups have different thoughts on how it should work. But here’s the thing – the Taliban has its own interpretation of Sharia law that has historically put all of society’s power in the hands of men.
Sharia law and womxn's rights in Afghanistan are two things that do not go well together. The Taliban, now that they’re back in power, have publicly stated that they will respect womxn’s rights in their new government – but many political experts don’t believe the hype.
Womxn are now required, again, to wear the burqa, a long garment that covers all of the body and face, with only a small opening for the eyes, usually covered by a net. After America withdrew, many womxn were left scrambling to find a burqa just so they could safely go out in public.
It’s terrifying to imagine what freedoms Afghan womxn will lose under the harsh Taliban regime. It’s highly likely they’ll lose the right to vote, choose their own partners, or live their lives with any semblance of normalcy. Forcing underage girls into arranged marriage was not uncommon during the previous Taliban regime. Even things we take for granted, like listening to music or walking alone outdoors, were previously not allowed for girls or womxn under the Taliban.
Womxn were not allowed to work and needed to be accompanied by a man to even leave their house. Essentially, Afghani womxn under the Taliban had zero freedoms, rights, or opportunities. Anyone who disobeyed the Taliban was previously subject to harsh punishments, including beatings.
Fewer educational and employment opportunities
When it comes to womxn's rights in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, one thing that worries us most is education. Young womxn in Afghanistan today have lived most of their lives with relative freedom to go to school, read books, and pursue higher education in the field of their choosing.
While education was previously banned for girls, the Taliban has now said they will allow it – but how or if this will play out remains to be seen. This means womxn might need to give up their careers, independence, and income, forcing them to marry or move in with male relatives – a terrifying thought.
You’ve probably heard of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban for daring to encourage other girls to fight for their right to go to school. She’s one of the most inspiring feminists we know and she now campaigns for education rights for all.
Aid organizations have left the country
While the US had a presence in Afghanistan, aid groups and charities that focused on Afghanistan womxn's rights could operate safely. There were many fantastic groups that worked with womxn to help them build their lives, get access to health care, and receive an education.
Due to the instability in the country, most of these groups can no longer operate, meaning womxn have far less support.
An uncertain future
After 20 years of relative stability, Afghan womxn now face an uncertain future. It’s hard to know exactly what will happen, but it’s safe to say their lives will dramatically change now that the Taliban is back in control.
Even the physical safety of womxn is at risk, with bombings and terrorism attacks from groups like ISIS likely to occur again.
What can I do to help?
The changes to womxn's rights in the Middle East, especially in Afghanistan, are heartbreaking to think about. Being on the other side of the world, is there anything we can do to make life easier for our sisters in Afghanistan?
We’re glad you asked! If you can afford it, a small donation can go a long way. Groups like Women for Afghan Women, UNHCR, and Visions for Children are humanitarian groups that help womxn and children and can always use support.
You can help in lots of other ways, too. First, support female journalists and media sources; read their work and share their tweets and Facebook posts. You can also talk to your friends and family about the plight of Afghan womxn, raising awareness of such an important and timely issue. (Oh, and always call out misogyny and sexism when you see it.)
We know this is heavy, serious stuff, but it’s important. Womxn’s rights matter, and if womxn in any part of the world don’t have equality, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Hopefully, this article has inspired you to find out more about what’s happening in Afghanistan and show solidarity – we can help out in a small way, but it makes a big difference.