Women's Rights

Taliban restrictions on women working bring outrage, defiance

By Salaam Times and AFP

A number of women protested in Kabul on September 19 for greater rights under Taliban rule. Afghan women demand recognition of their rights after the Taliban told working women to stay home until further notice following their takeover of Kabul on August 15. [AFP]

KABUL -- The Taliban's effective ban on women working sank in on Monday (September 20), sparking rage over the dramatic loss of rights after millions of female teachers and girls were barred from secondary school education.

After pledging a softer version of their brutal and repressive regime of the 1990s, the Islamic fundamentalists are tightening their control of women's freedoms one month after seizing power.

"I may as well be dead," said one woman, who was sacked from her senior role at the Foreign Ministry.

"I was in charge of a whole department, and there were many women working with me... now we have all lost our jobs," she told AFP, insisting she not be identified for fear of reprisals.

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Afghan women hold placards during a demonstration demanding better rights for women in front of the former Ministry of Women Affairs in Kabul September 19. [Bulent Kilic/AFP]

The acting mayor of Kabul has said any municipal jobs held by women will be filled by men.

That came after the Education Ministry ordered male teachers and students back to secondary school last Saturday but made no mention of the country's millions of female educators and pupils.

The Taliban on Friday also appeared to shut down the former government's Women Affairs Ministry and replaced it with one that earned notoriety during their first stint in power for enforcing religious doctrine.

While the country's new rulers have not issued a formal policy outright banning women from working, directives by individual officials have amounted to their exclusion from the workplace.

Many Afghan women fear they will never find meaningful employment.

'When will that be?'

A new government that the Taliban announced two weeks ago had no female members.

Although still marginalised, Afghan women have fought for and gained basic rights in the past 20 years, becoming lawmakers, judges, pilots and police officers, though mostly limited to large cities.

Hundreds of thousands have entered the workforce -- a necessity in some cases as many women were widowed or now support invalid husbands as a result of two decades of conflict.

But since returning to power on August 15, the Taliban have shown no inclination to honour those rights.

When pressed, Taliban officials say women have been told to stay at home for their own security but will be allowed to work once proper segregation can be implemented.

"When will that be?" a woman teacher said Monday.

"This happened last time. They kept saying they would allow us to return to work, but it never happened."

During the Taliban's first rule from 1996 to 2001, women were largely excluded from public life, including being banned from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.

In Kabul on Friday, a sign for the ministry for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice was erected at the building housing the old government's Women Affairs Ministry building.

Vice ministry enforcers were notorious for punishing anyone deemed not to be following the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islam.

On Sunday about a dozen women protested briefly outside the building, but dispersed when approached by Taliban officials.

No official from the new regime responded Monday to requests for comment.

In Herat, an education official insisted the issue of girls and female teachers returning to school was a question of time, not policy.

"It is not exactly clear when that will happen: tomorrow, next week, next month, we don't know," Shahabudin Saqib told AFP.

"It's not my decision because we have had a big revolution in Afghanistan."

Defiance

The United Nations (UN) said it was "deeply worried" for the future of girls' schooling in Afghanistan.

"It is critical that all girls, including older girls, are able to resume their education without any further delays," the children's agency UNICEF said.

Afghan women themselves have remained defiant.

Many educated and knowledgeable women qualify to participate in the government and should not be ignored, a woman student at Herat University told Salaam Times earlier this month.

"We, the women, are half of Afghanistan's population. We want to work like men and be active in all walks of life," she said.

"We do not accept a regime that removes us and ignores our rights," she added.

"Laws that undermine human dignity and women's rights will never be enforceable or acceptable."

Gone are the times of silencing women, said a woman teacher in Herat city.

"We will protect all our achievements and will not allow anyone to undermine them."

Regardless of how much pressure is exerted, Afghan women will defend their rights, she said.

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