Learning makes women know the evils of the world
Afghanistan today under the Taliban regime
Source UN Women, 15 August 2022
Policarpa is a research fellow in human rights. The name used is a pseudonym, as the author wishes to remain anonymous due to personal reasons. The name of the author is, however, known to the Blog's editors.
The Taliban emerged in the early 1990s with the special covert backing of Pakistan (Stanford University, 2018, p. 4). This group governed Afghanistan for the first time from 1994 to 2001. In 1996 when the Taliban took over Kabul, their political system was kept secret. There was no official document or policy for the rights and obligations of citizens. Their focus was on the independency of Afghanistan from foreign (Kufars, non-Muslim) countries’ interventions, rules, and regulations. They believed that Afghanistan had to be solely governed by a pure Islamic regime. Hence for the Taliban, democracy and its intrinsic characteristics, like human rights, were a non-Islamic phenomenon that had no place in Afghanistan. Their opposition to democracy and human rights affected mostly women, who were the real victims of their regime. During the first period of the Taliban regime from 1994-2001 women were deprived of all their political, social, cultural, and economic rights (Stanford University, 2018, p. 4).
On August 15th, 2021, after twenty years of democratic governance, Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Taliban for the second time. After they took over the country all the institutions working for the empowerment and protection of women’s rights had to close, and people feared that, like in the first period of the Taliban, women would become the victim of this regime. Two days after the toppling of Afghanistan’s government, on 17th August 2021, the Taliban held their first official conference. During this conference, when addressing women’s rights, the Taliban spokesman said “The issue of women is very important. The Islamic Emirate is committed to the rights of women within the framework of Sharia. Our sisters and our men have the same rights; they can benefit from them. They can have activities in different sectors and different areas based on our rules and regulations: educational, health, and other areas. They are going to be working with us, shoulder to shoulder with us.”
According to this speech, the act of brotherhood and commitment to women’s right to work and to have an education looks promising but the word “sharia framework” is still vague and unknown. So, this contribution aims to examine how women’s rights to education and work are framed under the Taliban regime. I further explore what ideology the Taliban follow and what the Taliban mean by “sharia framework”, after first discussing the origins of the Taliban.
The Origins of the Taliban and Deobandi: The most fundamentalist interpretation of Islam
The Deobandi Tariqat (school) is a revivalist Sunni Islamic movement formed in the late 19th century in Deoband, India. The “Deobandi” is the most fundamentalist and aggressive interpretation of Islam. According to their traditionalistic view, they reformed Islamic education methodologically (Bangash&Kaleem, 2017, p. 33). Since 1979, this school, which has been influenced by Salafism, became particularly widespread in Pakistan and in the Pakistani refugee camps where groups of Afghans, who later formed the Taliban, could extensively study it. The Deobandi school had a strong influence in particular on Mullah Mohammad Omar the founding ‘father’ of the Taliban. He believed that, due to Afghanistan’s occupation by the Soviets (mainly Kufars or non-Muslims), the lack of Islamic rules had weakened the country and brought suffering among the Afghan population (Stanford University, 2018, p. 3). Such belief persuaded Mullah Mohammad Omar to gather a small group of madrasas students to overthrow the communist regime in Afghanistan and replace it with an Islamic government (Stanford University, 2018, p. 3). Upon his return to Afghanistan, in September 1994, Mullah Mohammad Omar gathered around him only 50 students, but soon around 15000 students from Pakistani madrassas joined his group of fighters. As a result, by February 1995 they took control over 12 Afghani provinces and grew to 25000 fighters. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan under the name of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” until 2001 and introduced the Deobandi Tariqat in Afghanistan (Stanford University,2018, pp. 3-4).
This Islamic Tariqat restricted human rights and, in particular, proved to be not open to gender-based issues. The following paragraphs will delve into the most relevant restrictions of basic human rights, such as the right to work and education, that Afghan women have to face.
Women are not allowed to work in public or private institutions: According to the latest Fatwa of Deobandi on women’s right to work, dated 4th April 2010 by the Dar ul-Uloom India (religious school), women are not allowed to work in public or private institutions where the workplace is shared with men. Women can only work in places where there are no men and presumably be in women’s jobs only; nevertheless, they should be covered from head to toe, and should not interact with men. Similarly, the Pakistani Deobandi scholars, with whom the Taliban has trained in their madrassas, are also highly patriarchal and very conservative toward women’s rights. They have the same perspective as Dar ul-Uloom India and exclude women from all kinds of social and political inclusion (Bangash&Kaleem, 2017, p. 33).
Learning Makes Women know the Evils of the World: Women’s right to education is restricted in Deobandi Tariqat. The Deobandi ulama (religious authorities) oppose the non-religious education of women and women are encouraged to learn only “religious knowledge”. As per Deobandi Tariqat, only in severe-necessary situations, women can be allowed to learn non-religious studies (e.g., science) but under specific conditions, like the instructor should be a female, or there must be a curtain between the woman and male instructor to prevent any kind of interaction (purdah). Their justification for the prohibition of women’s education is that learning makes women know the evils of the world. Therefore, preventing women from having an education will save them from the evils. As one of the Deobandi scholars stated “school education is extremely harmful to women, it creates among them the idea of freedom, obscenity, and hatred with purdah”(Moj, 2007, p. 249). As illustrated in the foregoing, considering that Deobandi deprives women of the right to education and work, how will the Taliban as the followers of Deobandi guarantee these rights for women under their regime?
The Current Situation: From Theory to Practice
On 28 September 2021, the Taliban announced that they would temporarily adopt the 1964 King Zahir Shah Constitution except for the articles which are against the sharia framework or the Taliban’s principles. Under chapter 3 from Articles, 25 to 40 of the Constitution, the citizens’ rights, and obligations are guaranteed as follows
“All the people of Afghanistan have equal rights and obligations before the law, freedom, freedom of speech, the right to education and compulsory elementary education, the right to work and prohibition of compulsory work, and the prohibition of any kind of discrimination are guaranteed.”
But since the Taliban has taken over Kabul, they have restricted women’s rights, as will be shown in the following paragraphs of this contribution.
Women’s Right to Education
Since the Taliban take-over, girls are only allowed to go to primary school (1-6 classes) while secondary school (6-9) and high school (9-12) remain closed. According to the Save the Children Committee, of 1.1 million girl students, 850 thousand of them are excluded from schools. This number represents almost 80% of the population of female students. According to the Afghanistan International report, the Taliban education minister recently said that the Taliban act according to the wishes of the people, especially of those living in remote areas of the country, who do not want their girls older than 16 years to go to school. In Paktia, the people and five school headmasters opened the schools to girls but the Taliban reclosed them and arrested and threatened the students and their families. Despite schools being closed, the Taliban allowed university female students to continue their studies (Deutsche Welle Tv). However, the opening of the universities for girls was under specific conditions, like hanging a thick curtain between girls and boys and allowing no interaction between them. A female university student stated in an interview that the Taliban ordered girls to wear full hijabs and come to the university without bringing smartphones. On 25 April 2022, the Taliban ordered girls and boys to go to university on different days, three days for girls and three days for boys. The situation dramatically escalated on 22 December 2022 when the Taliban ministry of higher education ordered the ban of women from universities until further notice.
Women’s Right to Work
Regarding the right to work, in a recent interview dated 16 august 2022 on ToloNews a Talib political activist and Taliban supporter Sayed Zekrullah Hashimi explained the Taliban’s perspective on women’s right to work. He stated: “they (women) could not handle being ministers and that they should content themselves with giving birth.” He further added that “[t]here is no need for women to be in the cabinet. Is it necessary that we should have a woman in the cabinet?” and he concluded that “[y]ou are burdening her with something that she is unable to do, she is not capable of doing it. What useful thing can come out of that?".
Before this interview, the Taliban stated that women can work but not alongside men. However, women in the non-health sector and education sector are still not allowed to exercise their duties in public institutions. In the private sector, the Taliban properly check the workplace to verify whether women work alongside men or not. On 24 December 2022, after almost 17 months the Taliban issued an order barring all female employees of national and international organizations from going to work with immediate effect. Whereas after the collapse of the first Taliban government, from 2001 to 2021 women in the places that were not under the Taliban control got access to all their rights like the right to education, work, and political inclusion. For instance, according to the World Bank data, in the recent parliament of 249 seats, 69 seats (which is 27.7% of all parliamentary seats) were gained by women and 6.5% of all ministerial positions were occupied by women. 2018 was a remarkable year for women because the total share of women in the civil service administrations increased to 22%, and 7.5% t of high-ranking positions were occupied by women.
Among these restrictions, the interesting thing is that the Taliban allows women to work in the media as a journalist but demands they fully cover their faces except for their eyes. Despite this, since the Taliban takeover among the 7000 journalists who lost their jobs, 2100 of them are women.
Given this picture, it is not difficult to understand why the Taliban allowed women journalists to work. They want to show the world that they respect women’s right to work to have their Islamic Emirate recognized by the international community.
The Reaction: Women’s Protests
After the Taliban’s decision against women’s schooling and working, Afghan women have stood up for their rights especially the right to education and the right to work. Women protestors started their first protest on 4 September 2021.
Since the first protest, the Taliban has tried to scatter women’s protests with pepper spray, lacrimatory gas, electric shocks, kicking, beating by gangs and other physical and psychological threats. In addition, they arrested, tortured, abducted, shoot, and killed many women protesters in different provinces. Taliban also forced the abducted protestors to make self-incriminating confessions. However, there is no merged data about the number of women protesters who have been killed, detained, or tortured because of their families safety. Naira Kohistani, one of the first women protesters who fled the country, reported that she was among 40 protestors who spent 15 days under Taliban detention and was freed only after making a confession.
Despite the very first moment after the Afghanistan takeover by the Taliban, there has been reassurance that women’s rights would not be undermined, the reality is that, in a short span of time, women have been stripped of basic rights, such as the right to work and education. Eventually, this should not come as a surprise because, as this post illustrated, the Taliban-defined sharia framework is the Deobandi Tariqat, which, being an aggressive interpretation of Islam, is based on gender segregation. This Tariqat deeply restricts women's right to work since women are not allowed to work in public or private institutions where the workplace is shared with men. Even when women work in a ‘women only’ environment, they ought to be covered from head to toe, and not interact with men. Regarding the right to education, Deobandi believes allowing women to have a ‘non-religious’ education makes them know the evils of the world and thus they should only be taught ‘religious knowledge’.
The Taliban, as Deobandi followers, banned women from working in public, private, national and international organizations. They closed the school and university doors for girls. Therefore, any promises by the Taliban regarding the alleged respect for women’s rights are not more than a misgiving. The protection of women’s human rights under the Taliban regime is just a misconception and we could only expect women to be treated as the second gender to be isolated from society.
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