It has been two years since the Taliban overthrew Kabul. Since the rise to power of Islamist fundamentalists in Afghanistan, August 15, 2021, after 20 years of war with the Americans and NATO forces, women have seen their freedoms restricted for months. Now they are excluded from many public jobs, or paid a pittance to stay at home. They are also not allowed to travel unaccompanied by a male relative and must wear a burqa or hijab when leaving their home.
In Afghanistan, nine out of ten women are victims of physical, sexual or psychological violence by their partners, according to data from the United Nations mission in that country. “Women and girls have been erased from public life” in this country, was condemned last March by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres. The UN has also labeled Afghanistan the “most repressive” country for women in the world. A look back at these last two years of deprivation of liberty in 10 key dates.
September 2021: classes separated by gender
A few days after the departure of the American troops, bad news appeared. On September 12, 2021, the Taliban announced that women could attend universities with gender-segregated entrances and classrooms, but that they could only receive classes from professors of the same gender or from older men. Other restrictions include wearing the hijab as part of the mandatory dress code.
March 2022: ban on girls going to school
On March 23, high schools for girls were supposed to reopen, but the Taliban overturned the directive. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan girls and young women have been deprived of any opportunity to attend school since the Taliban returned to power in Kabul. Various officials say there are not enough teachers or money, but also that schools will reopen when the Islamic education program is developed. For the Taliban, as a general rule, women should only leave their homes if absolutely necessary.
According to UNESCO, 2.5 million Afghan girls and young women of school age do not attend school, or 80%. In Afghanistan, almost 30% of girls have never attended primary education. Despite the risks and because the thirst for learning remains intact, secret schools have sprung up across the country, often in the rooms of ordinary private homes.
May 2022: women and girls forced to wear the burka in public
On May 7, Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada ordered women to cover their entire bodies, including their faces, in public and to stay mostly at home. “They should wear the chadri (another name for the burqa), because it is traditional and respectful” publishes a decree. “Women who are neither too young nor too old should hide their faces when dealing with a man who is not a member of their family.” details of the decree.
Women are also prohibited from traveling in cities without a male escort. They are also excluded from many public jobs and are forbidden to travel alone outside their city.
August 2022: demonstrations violently dispersed
Shots in the air and blows with butts… On August 13, 2022, the Taliban violently dispersed women’s demonstrations in Kabul for the right to work and education. About 40 women chanting “Bread, Work and Freedom” paraded in front of the Ministry of Education before a group of Taliban fighters opened fire five minutes into the march.
Demonstrators carry a banner that reads: “15. August is a black day”relative to the date of the capture of Kabul in 2021 by the Taliban. “Justice, justice, we’ve had enough of ignorance”, they chant before being violently dispersed. Some protesters then took refuge in nearby shops where the Taliban chased them and then beat them with butts. They also confiscated cell phones from the demonstrators.
November 2022: women are banned from parks, gyms, public bathrooms
Women are prohibited from entering parks, fairgrounds, sports halls and public baths. Until now, different hours and days were established so that men and women would not cross paths. “In many places the rules were broken”explains the spokesman of the Ministry of Promotion of Virtues and Prevention of Vices, Mohammad Akif Sadeq Mohajir. “There was a mix-up and disrespect for the hijab (veil that covers the head and neck). That’s why such a decision was made at the moment”He said.
December 2022: executions and floggings
The Taliban are carrying out their first public execution since returning to power, that of a convicted killer who was shot by his victim’s father in the western province of Farah on December 7.
The next day, more than 1,000 people witnessed the flogging of 27 Afghans, including women, in Charikar, in the central Parwan province, for a range of offenses ranging from sodomy and adultery to forgery and debauchery. Public floggings have since been regularly carried out in other provinces.
December 2022: Women are banned from university
On December 21, armed guards prevent hundreds of young women from entering university campuses. A day earlier, the decree was announced in a laconic statement by the Minister of Higher Education “suspension of women’s education until further notice”. No explanation has yet been given to justify this decision.
The new ban comes less than three months after thousands of girls and women took university entrance exams across the country. Many of them wanted to choose between a career as an engineer or a doctor, despite being denied access to secondary schools.
April 2023: Afghan women can no longer work for NGOs
On April 4, Taliban authorities ordered local and foreign NGOs to stop working with women “serious complaints” in regard to their manner of dress. “The Ministry of Economy (…) orders all organizations to stop employing women until further notice”states the ministry responsible for granting licenses to non-governmental organizations operating in Afghanistan.
At the same time, the Taliban also banned Afghan women from working for the UN. The United Nations condemns the decision “unacceptable and frankly unimaginable”. “We were told by various channels that the ban applies to the whole country”, declares Stéphane Dujarric. This ban is against the United Nations charter which rejects all segregation. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres “calls on the Taliban to withdraw immediately” this decision.
June 2023: UN condemns “gender apartheid”
On June 19, 2023, the UN rapporteur on Afghanistan asked states to investigate whether the Taliban’s “gender apartheid” against women could constitute an international crime, such as crimes against humanity. “It is imperative not to look away”, says Richard Bennett, during a debate organized by the Human Rights Council in Geneva on the situation of women in Afghanistan. He describes the measures taken by the Taliban against women as “birth persecution”a crime that constitutes a crime against humanity as opposed to gender apartheid.
He further added a few days later that as long as the restrictions imposed on women are in place in Afghanistan, it is “almost impossible” for the Taliban government to be recognized by members of the international community.
July 2023: closure of beauty salons
Thousands of beauty salons will close permanently on July 25, 2023 across Afghanistan, following the implementation of a decree by the Taliban authorities. This new restriction on freedom deprives women of one of their rare sources of income and one of the last places where they could meet freely, outside their increasingly confined homes. The ban on beauty salons will cause an additional 60,000 women working in 12,000 establishments to lose income, according to the Afghanistan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The Taliban justified this closure by the fact that extravagant amounts are spent in wedding salons, considering it too heavy a burden for poor families, and by the fact that some of the treatments offered do not respect Islamic law. Too much makeup on the face prevents women from performing ablution properly before prayer, the ministry explained, and false eyelashes and braids are also prohibited.