In this article, we take a look at the place women hold in Afghanistan and what the future holds for the feminine under Taliban rule. More specifically, we will discuss the implications of Kabul University’s ban on women, as well as Zarifa Ghafari’s fate.
The Taliban offensive
From May to August this year, the Taliban took on a military battle with the now-Former President Ashraf Ghani’s government. More specifically, on the 15th of August, the Taliban marched on Kabul and established their rule. While an interesting debate can be had surrounding America’s involvement and the build-up to the coup, here, we are going to adopt more of a gendered lens in interpreting the Taliban’s first rule since 2001.
The systematic suppression of women
Intuitively, the Taliban’s rule has shown a systematic attempt to force women out of positions of power, and more broadly out of the productive economy. This is most obviously seen with the announcement on the 27th of September that women will no longer be welcome at Kabul University in both a work and student capacity. This announcement went on to say that this ban on women will only last until an “Islamic environment” can be established. Can this be believed?
The argument is that there are not enough female lecturers to accommodate for teaching female students. However, the longer women are excluded from the university space, the less likely Afghanistan will be able to cater to this demand. This makes the possibility of the return of women to universities rather unlikely. It is also rather possible to assume that this is simply a ploy to make the removal of women from educational environments more palatable for the liberal community within Afghanistan, as well as for the West. An outright ban of women from these spaces could force the West’s hand to intervene due to societal pressure. If we take a look at the West’s reaction of empathy and engagement when the Taliban shot the now-famous Malala Yousafzai in 2012, it is not surprising that the Taliban would want to tread carefully now.
The unfortunate fate of Zarifa Ghafari
In 2018, Afghanistan made serious moves by appointing its first female mayor, Zarifa Ghafari. However, the world is now waiting on an update with regards to her safety. The last statement we received from her was on the 15th of August. At the time, she described her and her family’s fear when waiting for the arrival of the Taliban. She specifically detailed her fear as to what will become of her. I think we can look at Zarifa as a symbol of what all Afghani women now face.
In a similar stance, the new interim government does not have a single female representative. There have also been reports of militants forcibly removing women from their workplaces. More violent still are the reports of women protesting this all-male government being beaten with whips and sticks. This is a rather physical and graphic depiction of the exclusion of women from the productive economy.
Where will women be allowed to exist?
In establishing that there is an active attempt at removing women from the productive, work economy, the question emerges, where will Afghani women be allowed to exist? My assumption is then that women will be expected to occupy the reproductive economy
Just a quick segue, the division into productive and reproductive economies refers to the division of the economy into the public and private spheres, respectively. In other words, broadly speaking, the former refers to the labour force, while the latter to care labour located within the household.
With this expectation, women will most likely be forced to solely adopt the cooking, cleaning, and care responsibilities within the home. With this restriction, women will then lose their independence and power within society. Without a foot in the productive economy, there is no avenue for income. Without this income, women lose the ability to create lives on their own terms. This will promote a woman’s survival on the ability to marry, as opposed to on the ability to establish a career.
The future is uncertain, but one thing seems fairly set in stone, and that is the precarity of women in Afghani society. Under the Taliban’s rule, I think it is safe to assume that women will be progressively removed from the public spheres of society and further restricted to the private. A subsidiary question then becomes, will external parties intervene?
The possibility of external intervention
Upon the withdrawal of US troops, we saw a very quick return to Taliban rule. It seems inconceivable that the American government and people will return to the emotionally and financially taxing act of going to war for a country that is not their own. However, if 9/11, as well as the ISIS acts of terrorism that have plagued Europe in recent years, have taught us anything, it is that the West is militarily motivated when faced with the prospect of domestic terrorism. It is therefore feasible that the US and its European allies may look to occupy Afghanistan again were there to be a serious, and existential threat to the West located in the Taliban-era Afghanistan.
However, as already alluded to, the West has a history of reacting rather empathetically towards the equal treatment of women, as can be seen in the case of Malala Yousafzai. It is also important to remember that the world has changed since 2012. In recent years, the #MeToo movement has exploded to bring further awareness to the abuse women have faced in the West and to remove the assumption that the West has overcome sexism. We have since witnessed the “take-downs” of the likes of Jeffrey Epstein and R.Kelly. American society, and many other societies with it, are becoming increasingly intolerant of the mistreatment of women. How long will the global community tolerate the Taliban’s removal of women from the public domain? And what political agendas will prevent foreign intervention- financial strain, military objectives, the desire to save-face and cut losses?
Stephanie is the Assistant Editor at the Journal of Political Risk. She has a B.A. in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics and an Honours degree in Justice and Transformation from the University of Cape Town. She is currently pursuing her MPhil in Public Law, focusing on a gendered analysis of transitional justice mechanisms. She has also contributed as a member of the research team for the South African Medical Research Council, focusing on the National Health Insurance bill.