Since the Taliban’s August 2021 takeover of Afghanistan, they have ratcheted up restrictions on women and girls as the group consolidates power. These restrictions include limitations on employment, education, public interactions and other fundamental rights such as access to justice. These restrictions have only tightened over time with increasingly draconian enforcement — the latest being public floggings that harken back to the Taliban’s 1990s rule. Amid the U.N.’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, USIP has compiled a comprehensive archive of Taliban decrees and public statements on the treatment of women and girls. While leaders and activists around the globe strategize and develop plans to address gender-based violence in their respective countries, Afghanistan stands out as a worst-case example, with two decades of hard-won progress rapidly unwinding.
Erasing Women from Public Life
Examples of the Taliban’s repressive treatment of women abound. Days ago, three women were flogged in a football stadium in Logar province in front of thousands for what the Taliban called “moral crimes.” Similar floggings have been reported in Nuristan, Takhar, Kabul, Laghman and Bamyan provinces. In mid-October, a woman in Ghor province accused of a “moral crime” was scheduled to be stoned, but the night before the sentence was to be carried out, the woman was found dead. Activists speculate that she either committed suicide or was murdered by her family.
One of the few Afghan activists to publicly speak of her experience in Taliban detention for protesting for her rights told of the nightmare she went through — an experience that likely mirrors those of other Afghan women detained by the Taliban. “They tortured me … using cables, pipes and whips … As they were torturing me, they would record it. It was a terrifying experience in that prison," Tamana Paryani said, months after her release and evacuation to Europe.
Women are being erased from public life, effectively imprisoned within their own society by recent decrees that ban women from public parks and gyms, require women’s faces to be covered in public, and limit the number of days they can go shopping (and then only with a male relative). “In no other country have women and girls so rapidly disappeared from all spheres of public life, nor are they as disadvantaged in every aspect of their lives,” wrote Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett in his latest report on the situation in Afghanistan.
U.S. Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls and Human Rights Rina Amiri has repeatedly raised alarm about violence against women. “Those who fear a radicalized Afghanistan should be alarmed by the Taliban’s policies against women & girls, denying them education, work in most sectors, even small joys such as the right to go to a park. This extremism will lead to instability, poverty & more population flight,” she tweeted in November.
Afghan activists have consistently called on world leaders to address the dire situation women and girls are facing. “The women of Afghanistan went from existence — from being part of society, from working, from being part of every aspect of life as doctors, judges, nurses, engineers, women running offices — to nothing. Everything they had, even the most basic right to go to high school, was taken away from them,” said Mahbouba Seraj, a 74-year-old women’s rights activist.
After the Talban took over Afghanistan, there was much discussion about whether we would see a reformed Taliban movement that would be more inclusive and more respecting of women’s rights. But only two weeks after Kabul fell, they reinstated their 1990s ban on girls’ secondary education.
Can Pressure Change the Taliban’s Treatment of Women?
International opposition to and opprobrium of the Taliban’s anachronistic policies on women has been nearly universal, particularly in regard to education. A handful of leaders from around the Muslim world have also decried the Taliban’s aberrant interpretations of Shariah concerning girls’ education. This includes the Turkish foreign ministry, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the Qatari and Indonesian foreign ministers.
Despite the condemnation and isolation from the international community, the Taliban have not changed their posture or policies toward women. Inducing them to do so will require a comprehensive pressure campaign, which could look like this:
- The international community should explicitly link recognition of the Taliban government to its policies and practices related to women, among other things. It is important to note that no country has recognized the Taliban as the legitimate governing authority in Afghanistan, which is worse than in the 1990s when they at least had recognition from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But the lack of recognition today is largely tied to concerns over security and terrorism. Moving forward, all states should predicate recognition and normalization on the basic respect for women’s fundamental rights as well.
- Political leaders and scholars from around the Muslim world should proactively communicate to the Taliban and the Afghan people what their interpretation of women’s rights under Shariah looks like. For many Afghans and the Taliban, cultural messaging may be even more effective than diplomatic demarches. Demonstrating that women have greater rights in the rest of the Muslim world can help counter the Taliban’s claims that their version of Islam is the only true one. Indeed, Article 6 of OIC’s Cairo Declaration calls on states to “eliminate difficulties that impede … [women’s] full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms and effective participation in all spheres of life, at all levels.”
- Continue to support Special Rapporteur Bennet’s mission and enhance his investigative mandate. The mandate for the U.N. Special Rapporteur is renewable by the U.N. Human Rights Council on an annual basis. Not only should his term be renewed as long as the human rights situation in Afghanistan remains poor, but he should also be given greater investigative authorities and resources to comprehensively document Taliban policies and practices that violate international human rights agreements.
- Provide financial and moral support to Afghan civil society and women-led organizations who provides services to Afghan women. Afghan women’s rights groups in the country need donor support to survive as their access to employment is effectively cut off. Civil society and leaders of other nations — particularly in Afghanistan’s neighborhood who have friendly relations with the Taliban — should continue to express their support for Afghan women and their fight to reassert their rights. This could include joining campaigns, advocating on their behalf and providing safe spaces and platforms to voice their concerns. Afghan women have long called for their inclusion in decision making at local, national and international levels.
While the international community, particularly the Muslim world, has a vital role to play, the most important and strongest form of pressure will come from inside Afghanistan. Afghan women are their own best advocates but need the support described above. Many traditional male leaders in Afghanistan oppose the Taliban’s policies on women but are afraid to speak up. Giving them a platform on Afghan media and finding subtle ways to empower them in their own communities can help amplify local demands for women’s rights.
Perhaps the most influential sources of change will be from within the Taliban movement itself. Some leading Taliban figures and clerics — including powerful Taliban deputy leader and Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar, Minister of Higher Education Abdul Baqi Haqqani and the head of a seminary in Herat, Jalilullah Akhundzada — have called for the ban to be rescinded. The Taliban’s deputy foreign minister, Sher Abas Stanekzai, went so far as to publicly say, “Education is obligatory on both men and women, without any discrimination. None of the religious scholars present here can deny this obligation. No one can offer a justification based on [Islamic] Sharia for opposing [women’s] right to education.”
Despite these Taliban leaders speaking up, the ban on education remains in place. These statements may just be lip service, or, perhaps, they offer an entry point for activists in Afghanistan and from the international community to convince the Taliban to reinstate Afghan women’s fundamental right to education. Either way, the steps detailed above to pressure the Taliban will be vital to persuading them to change their education policies.
Documenting Taliban Policies to Measure Success
No pressure campaign can work without ways to measure its effectiveness. This archive helps to demonstrate the deeply disturbing and concerning trend toward more restrictions on all aspects of women’s lives. Getting these restrictions lifted is the primary and widely held goal. The archive enables these policies to be tracked to see whether the Taliban are fulfilling their ostensible commitments toward a just and inclusive society — and can provide points for focused advocacy and debate.
August 13: Ordered imams to bring them lists of unmarried women aged 12 to 45 for their fighters to marry.
August 17: Announced amnesty for opposition and former pro-republic officials and urges women to join Taliban’s government.
August 17: Invited women to join government.
August 19: Declared the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as form of government.
August 20: Carried out house-to-house search looking for journalists and individuals with ties to the republic and Western forces.
August 25: Ordered women to stay indoors at home because soldiers are not trained to respect women.
August 30: Declared ban on co-education and prohibited men from teaching girls.
September 8: Announced a caretaker government.
September 8: Banned protests and slogans that don’t have prior approval from Taliban.
September 12: Banned girls from secondary education.
September 17: Replaced Ministry of Women’s Affairs with Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
September 20: Ordered professional/working women to stay home until further notice.
September 27: Ordered barbers not to shave men’s beard.
September 28: Indicated they might temporarily implement the 1964 Constitution.
September 29: Women banned from attending and teaching at Kabul University.
November 22:Banned women from television dramas.
November 23: Stormed the Afghan Independent Bar Association.
November 25: Ordered followers of non-Islam religions to follow the Sharia orders and the Hanafi jurisprudence in performing their religious rituals and that senior government employees must be follower of Imam Abu Hanifa. Source: Copy of the order.
December 4: Haibatullah Akhundzada issued a decree about women’s rights, outlined the importance of women’s consent during Nikah, that a woman is not property, but a noble and free human being.
December 26: Banned women from travelling long-distance (72 km/45 miles) road trips without a mahram.
December 26: Banned drivers from playing music in cars and having women passengers without hijab.
December 26: Dissolved election commission, Ministry of Peace and Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.
December 29: Closed public baths for women in Balkh.
December 31: Ordered clothing stores to remove mannequin’s heads.
January 3: Closed public baths for women in Balkh.
January 7: Ordered coffee shop owners in Herat not to serve women if they are not accompanied by a mahram.
In January the Taliban met with representatives of the U.S., France, Britain, Germany, Italy, the European Union and Norway in Oslo to discuss Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.
Ordered NGOs to replace board members and those in leadership positions with Afghans living inside Afghanistan. Source: Copy of the order.
Ordered universities to enforce gender-segregated classrooms.
Banned women from traveling abroad without a mahram and without a legitimate reason.
Note: In February the Taliban in Geneva signed a document vowing to “facilitate principled humanitarian action in Afghanistan and to ensure the protection of humanitarian workers and aid…”
March 2: Banned women from entering health centers without a mahram.
March 13: Ordered enforcement of segregation of women and men’s offices.
March 17: Announced the reopening of girls’ schools at the start of 1401 (March 2022) school year.
March 18: Banned foreign TV series.
March 24: Announced that schools for girls’ grade 7 and up will remain close.
March 20: Canceled the Nowroz public holiday.
March 27: Banned women from traveling abroad without a mahram and without a legitimate reason.
March 28: Ordered male civil servants to grow beard or risk being fired.
By verbal instruction of Haibatullah, women must not be employed in offices and must not leave home. The order was issued by the Ministry of Interior and signed by Qari Ihsanullah Sohail, Chief of staff of deputy for security affairs. Source: Copy of the edict.
April 6: Dictated different days for men and women to visit parks.
April 22: Banned TikTok and PUBG, insisting they were leading Afghan youths astray.
April 29: Announced three days of week for female and three days for male university students.
May 5: Stopped issuing driving licenses to women.
May 7: Issued order that women are not allowed to use public transport if they are alone.
May 7: Issued recommendation and implementation plan regarding proper hijab, stating the best hijab is for women to wear a burqa or stay home.
May 16: Dissolved the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
May 19: Ordered female TV presenters on air to cover their faces.
May 29: Issued order that women are not allowed to use public transport if they are alone.
June 1: Ordered female students in Ghazni in grades 4-6 to cover their faces while commuting to school or face expulsion.
June 2: Banned poppy cultivation through a decree.
June 28: Held an all-male gathering of 4,500 clerics and leaders in Kabul. Claimed men can sufficiently represent the views of female relatives.
July 18: Directed women employees of the Ministry of Finance to send a male relative to take their jobs if they want to be paid their salaries
August 7: Removed Ashura as a religious public holiday.
August 10 Female flight attends are removed from their jobs.
August 16: Made attending religious classes mandatory in universities, adding five new religious subjects to the existing eight.
August 23: Established female moral police department.
August 25: Issued an order banning women from going to parks where park authorities cannot ensure segregation between men and women
August 29: Ordered female university students to cover their faces in classrooms.
September 8: Made attending daily religious classes (offered by the Vice and Virtue agents) mandatory in all government offices. To keep their jobs, they must pass a test.
September 11: Closed secondary and high schools for girls that had briefly opened in Paktia.
September 17: Prohibited the hiring of former government employees of Hajj and Religious Affairs, Supreme Court and Ministry of Education and ordered their termination. Source: Copy of the order.
September 20: Banned female students from taking videos and photos on university campus.
September 26: Ordered media outlets that female TV guests must cover face.
October 6: Expelled hundreds of pubescent female students in Kandahar.
October 7: Blocked women from choosing agriculture, mining, civil engineering, veterinary medicine and journalism as their study major. Taliban said these subjects are too difficult for women.
October 13: Ordered removal of non-Islamic policies in ministries.
October 13: Ordered male teachers and students to sign pledge to observe Sharia in Kandahar.
October 28: Removed women’s seat from Commission of Media Violations.
October 30: Whipped female university students in Badakhshan for wearing jeans under their long coats.
November 6: Closed public baths for women in Badghis.
November 10: Banned women and girls from parks and gyms.
November 11: Nineteen people, including nine women were flogged in public 39 times each for adultery, theft, running away from home in Takhar.
November 14: Taliban Supreme Leader reinstate Hudud and Qisas punishments in cases such as robbery, kidnapping and sedition.
November 15: Five men accused of theft and kidnapping received between 30 and 39 lashes in public.
November 17: Taliban flogged a man and a woman in Bamyan.
November 20: Ministry of Haj of Taliban ordered mosques to praise Taliban Supreme Leader and refer to him as “Amir” in Friday prayers.
- Three women were among several other people flogged by the Taliban in Logar province in front of thousands of onlookers in a football stadium.
- Taliban also enforced their sharia interpretation on a man and a woman in Laghman by flagging them in public.
November 30: In Samangan, two women and three men were flogged for moral crime.
December 1: Taliban flogged 21 people including six women in Kabul.
December 4: Taliban publicly whipped seven people including a woman in Ghor.
December 6: Taliban lashed 5 people accused of extra marital relationship, drinking alcohol and smuggling drugs in Khost.
December 7: First public execution took place in Farah province attended by Supreme Court justices, military personnel and senior ministers - including the justice, foreign and interior ministers.
- Taliban’s Supreme Court issued the final rulings that twenty-seven people among them nine women be punished by public flogging for alleged theft, adultery and other crimes. Each person was flogged between 25 and 39 times in Parwan.
- Three women were among 22 people flogged in Jawzjan. Those flogged were suspected of moral crimes, alcohol consumption, sodomy and selling of narcotics.
- Three men accused of theft were given Tazeer punishment in Paktika.
December 14: Ministry of Vice and Virtue issued a letter to the Ministry of Interior Affairs to improve oversight on production firms that produces taranas (songs without music) to ensure they are in line with Islamic values. Copy of order is available.
December 14: Two women and 25 men were publicly flogged in Zabul and Helmand provinces.
- Two women and three men accused of moral crimes and theft were flogged in Kapisa.
- Twelve people including one woman accused of moral crimes, drinking alcohol, and theft received between 23 and 35 lashes in public in Ghor.
December 19: Twenty-two men and women accused of adultery, running away from home, sodomy, theft and smuggling narcotics were lashed in the sport stadium in Jawzjan.
- Taliban banned female students from public and private universities until further notice.
- One person accused of entering a stranger’s house “with the wrong intention” was lashed 39 times in Maidan Wardak.
- Twelve people accused of moral crimes and theft were flogged in Helmand.
- Taliban Ministry of Education banned girls beyond grade 6 from attending private courses.
- Two women were among 23 people flogged in Uruzgan. They were accused of moral crimes, robbery, sodomy, and theft.
- Twenty-one people including four women accused of moral crimes were lashed in public in Badakhshan.
- Taliban banned female staff working for I/NGOs.
- Nine people including one woman accused of moral crimes were flogged in Khost. One person accused of theft had his hand chopped off in Laghman.
December 25: Nine people accused of moral crimes and theft were flogged in public in Kunduz.
December 27: Taliban banned women-run bakeries in Kabul.
December 27: Six including two women accused of moral crimes were publicly flogged in Laghman.
December 28 One person accused of selling and purchasing narcotics was punished in public under Tazeer punishment.
December 31 Taliban lashed five people including one woman accused of moral crimes and theft in Paktia.