Afghan women bear the brunt of Taliban curbs on human rights

Kabul, Aug 11 (EFE)- The reversal of human rights in Afghanistan, especially for women – who have been practically erased from public life – is evident a year after the Taliban seized control of the country after decades of war, despite their promises of change.

Since seizing power on Aug. 15, 2021, the Islamists have deprived Afghan women of social rights and access to work, prevented girls from accessing secondary education, silenced journalists and cracked down on protests despite censure by the international community, which has largely refused to recognize the Taliban’s interim government.

Activist Arifa Fatimi, 26, has participated in the sporadic women’s protests in Kabul and told EFE that the Taliban’s decisions about women “fit the pattern of making women absolutely invisible in the society.”

Fatimi listed the growing restrictions enforced by the all-powerful ministry of propagation of virtue and prevention of vice, such as imposing burka or other similar dresses that fully cover women’s faces and banning them from travelling long distances without a male companion.

“Women and girls don’t have any hope or optimism for the future of Afghanistan, that the Taliban would change in the future,” she said.

The activist said Afghan women were losing the progress they had achieved in the last two decades, following the United States’ invasion in 2001, after the collapse of the previous government led by Ashraf Ghani.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have criticized the Taliban’s “suffocating crackdown” against women since last year.

“Women protesters were detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured, and women and girls swept up in arrests and detained for ‘moral corruption’,” the AI said in a report in July, while flagging the “huge increase in child, early and forced marriages.”

Afghanistan has plunged into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis after the Taliban seizing power, as international aid has dried up in a country where 59 percent of the over 39 million people depend on assistance according to the United Nations.

This has become a double crisis for human rights in the country due to the indifference of the Taliban, Zulia Parsi, of the Spontaneous Movement of Women Activists, told EFE.

“We still haven’t seen any essential public services, while the people – especially women – lost their jobs and girls were banned from their education, the governmental and non-governmental support has been stopped or decreased,” she said, adding that the Taliban held no regard for human rights.

The humanitarian crisis has also taken a heavy toll on the children.

“Some days my father cannot bring food. My brothers wake up at midnight and cry for food. I don’t eat, and I save my food for my brothers and sisters. When my brothers and sisters ask for food, I get upset and cry a lot. I go to my neighbour’s house and ask for food. Sometimes they’ll help,” Parishad, a teenage girl from northern Afghanistan, told nonprofit Save the Children.

The attacks on press and the closure of hundreds of media outlets has also marked the Islamists’ first year in power, with the regime often arresting and attacking activists over coverage of protests.

The Taliban have banned any protests without their prior approval, and covering these “sensitive” issues can invite the authorities’ ire.

“Since the Taliban takeover, they have restricted media freedom, (…) a huge number of media outlets have shut down and the remaining are under pressure,” journalist and human rights defender Fauzia Wahdat told EFE.

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennet, highlighted the issue during his visit to the country in May, citing several reports of “intimidation, harassment, attacks, arrests,” and even “killing or disappearance, of journalists.”

Bennet added that the intimidation was also directed against members of the judiciary and lawyers doing their work, as well as members of the civil society.

According to a report released by the Reporters without Borders (RSF) in December – at a time when the situation was yet to deteriorate to the current levels – 231 of the 543 media outlets active in the country before the Taliban takeover had shut operations, with around 6,400 of the total 10,790 workers in the sector losing their jobs.

Amid widespread criticism by the international community, the Taliban interim government has repeatedly insisted that these concerns are “unfounded.”

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