International Women’s Day - not for the women of Afghanistan
by Miriam Bougoussa, Intern

This week the world has been celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) to recognise the social, cultural, political, and economic achievements of women around the world. However, the women of Afghanistan were left out of the celebrations. 

According to the IWD website, “the day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality”. Following the Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan in 2021, the rights of women in the country have slowly been stripped away. A statement by the United Nations (UN) Mission on 8th March 2023 said that the leaders of Afghanistan have a “singular focus on imposing rules that leave most women and girls effectively trapped in their homes”.

It began with the Taliban segregating classrooms at universities by gender in August 2021. By September 2021, the imposition on women became more radical - only males were able to return to secondary school and most females were barred from working in industries other than education, such as teaching, or health, such as nursing. In May 2022, the Ministry published a decree requiring all women to wear full-body coverings when in public, including a mandate to cover the face. The decree stated that enforcement included fines and prison time. Female TV presenters are especially targeted by the rules and forced to cover their faces when on air. Women were also banned from travelling more than 45 miles by themselves and require a close male relative to travel with them. Most recently, in December 2022, women were banned from attending university and not allowed to work for non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

During the week of International Women’s Day, universities reopened across Afghanistan. However, only to men, with women still being banned. At the same time, secondary school aged girls have not been able to go to school since August 2021. This echoes the haunting statistic that 80% of Afghan females of school age, 2.5 million individuals, are out of education. This is a heartbreaking reminder that whilst we have much to celebrate globally when commemorating women, we still have a long way to go in the fight for equality. The rhetoric of equality needs to become a reality for Afghan women.

This is a slippery slope for Afghanistan, leading to a society without women in the workforce. According to Roza Otunbayeva, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general and head of the U.N political mission in Afghanistan, “Afghanistan under the Taliban remains the most repressive country in the world regarding women’s rights”.

Afghanistan has also been experiencing an ongoing humanitarian crisis, and is one of the least developed countries globally, with a strong reliance on aid. However, due to the Taliban’s crackdown on women’s rights, the UN has warned about potentially cutting aid. This would lead to further suffering of Afghan citizens, especially women who have been increasingly shunned from society.

The United Kingdom launched the Afghan Resettlement Scheme on 6 January 2022 with the aim of resettling up to 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan in the next few years. According to the government website, the scheme will prioritise:

  • those who have assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for values such as democracy, women’s rights, freedom of speech, and rule of law;
  • vulnerable people, including women and girls at risk, and members of minority groups at risk (including ethnic and religious minorities and LGBT+).

However, more needs to be done to restore the rights of women in Afghanistan. Governments and international organisations need to unite to continue to pressure Afghanistan to restore the rights of women. International Women’s Day is not only a celebration of the achievement of women and their rights, but a reminder of how much more work is needed to be done to truly achieve equality. 

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