Immediately upon taking power, the Taliban ordered that women need not to return to work. They have enforced strict segregation in universities, government offices and also on public transportation.
Seven months after gauging public response to their decision to segregate young man and women in schools and colleges, the Taliban have completed their gender segregation project. They have enforced strict segregation in universities, government offices and also on public transportation.
Such discrimination harks back to the 1990s, when the Taliban had barred unrelated men and women from mixing in public places. The hardliners envision an emirate where women are not equal to men.
Rights groups have voiced their fear of girls and women being excluded from public life. In January an independent team of around three dozen Human Rights Council-appointed experts highlighted a “wave of measures” by the regime that were institutionalizing large scale and systematic gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.
“Women heads of households are especially hard hit, with their suffering compounded by the devastating consequences of the humanitarian crisis in the country,” the committee of experts had explained in their report, that has since been taken off the website of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
These policies have also affected the ability of women to work and to make a living, pushing them further into poverty.
“Taken together, these policies constitute a collective punishment of women and girls, grounded on gender-based bias and harmful practices,” the experts had said.
Women, health, education
Immediately upon taking power, the Taliban ordered that women need not to return to work. But with COVID-19 spreading across the country and following the outcry their order created, it called women health professionals to resume work.
The Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice sent a communique early March ordering the Health Ministry to segregate male and female employees.
“The offices for men and women should be separate,” the letter read.
Separately, the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued another fiat to deny health care to women who did not observe the hijab. The ministry enforces the Taliban’s radical interpretation of Islamic law.
Women and men who staffed the health system worked hard to handle the health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A person working with a humanitarian agency in Kabul said, “the Taliban had been waiting for the pandemic to subside so that they could announce the order”.
A month after they ousted the government of Ashraf Ghani, the Taliban imposed gender segregation in the country’s private universities and colleges.
The Taliban’s Education Ministry issued a decree that classes must be segregated by gender – or, divided by a curtain in places with restricted resources. The order said the only women could teach female students and in cases where women were hard to locate for teaching jobs, “elderly men” of good character could fill in.
Female students have also been told that some courses will no longer be available to them.
The process of rolling back of the rights Afghan women had acquired since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001, despite a ravaging war across the country. Recent months have seen the closure of schools and the banning of women from most forms of employment.
Women did come out to protest the restrictions, but that was soon clamped down, with many of them getting arrested and some disappearing.
Segregating women travellers has imposed unforeseen hardships. Radio Azadi quoted
Sanga Lemar, a Kabul University lecturer, spoke to Radio Azadi of the difficulties stemming from the restrictions in her daily commute to work.
“Women are banned from sitting in the front seats [of buses],” she said, adding that this forced them to wait an hour or more to find an appropriate car or bus.
Lemar accused Taliban fighters of violating their own gender segregation rules. She recalled how a male Taliban fighter went through her purse when she was stopped at a security checkpoint.
“It is strange that they want to keep unrelated men and women separate yet allow a stranger to go through a woman’s purse,” she told Radio Azadi.
Arezo is based in Kabul and prefers using her only first name for her writings for OWSA.
Image: Alessio Romenzi / UNICEF