Since the collapse of the Taliban in 2001, when the status of women in Afghanistan was arguably at its lowest in recent history, Afghani women have made meaningful strides in gaining rights. During the brutal Taliban years, women were banned from going to work or even leaving their house without a male to accompany them, and the Draconian laws instated under the guise of an Islamic state ultimately resulted in many Afghani women living under virtual house arrest.
After the fall, women began reentering the workplace and universities, taking off their veils, and even starting their own businesses. It was a difficult transition process, but by the fall of 2003, an Afghan Women's Bill of Rights had been drafted and presented to President Hamid Karzai, with provisions ensuring health care, education, financial independence, and protection from sexual harassment and rape, most notably within a marriage. No one was naive enough to believe that the Bill of Rights equated to immediate rights for all women across Afghanistan, but with progressive laws came the opportunity to prosecute, ostensibly, those who imposed Taliban-era rules on women.
But the withdrawal of US forces and the impending withdrawal of NATO troops leaves the status of women's rights on shaky ground. Already, a local religious council in a northern province issued a fatwa banning women from leaving their homes without a male, and a ban on the sale of cosmetics. Though one fatwa in a regional council may appear to be a localized problem, concerns mounted as a presidential advisor who serves in Afghanistan's top religious panel defended the local council's bans: "There is no way these shops could have stayed open. Shops are for business, not adultery."
A UN watchdog group has echoed concerns from within Afghanistan: "women's interests and needs may be compromised in the peace negotiations due to deep rooted patriarchal attitudes." The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also stated that the abysmal number of women in the 70-member High Peace Council (nine out of seventy), the main body that negotiates with tribal groups in Afghanistan, means women are barely represented in Afghani politics. With the alarming news of women's rights sliding back to pre-Taliban days coming from Afghanistan everyday, as the situation stands, it's looking pretty bleak.
Image via Daniel Berehulak/Getty.