In the history of human societies, there has been oppression of women. But none so systemic with their complete exclusion from society like what is happening in Afghanistan.
Two years after the fall of Kabul and the Taliban’s return to the presidential palace (Arg), the lives of girls and women in Afghanistan have been completely upended. In the past, women being absent in social systems was rooted in cultural structures where there was “no space” for women’s participation and presence. Political institutions were subordinate to the cultural norms and social institutions, although politics still indirectly supported women in these systems.
However those roles have flipped under Taliban rule. The political apparatus has trumped all cultural practices and social norms, imposing an agenda that overtakes even the most conservative cultural practices. The Taliban system has put elimination of women in the public sphere on the agenda in a purposeful and planned manner. It is happening step by step in the form of government directives, forcing women out of the public areas and visibility.
The Taliban’s discriminatory actions against women have exposed the public conscience of the Afghan people and is putting the international community’s values to a serious test.
Considering the amount of violence and brutality coupled with the group’s misogyny, it was expected that along with the discriminatory measures, there would be angry and widespread protests at both national and international levels to put piercing pressure on the Taliban to change these habits.
But this did not happen in practice. The initial spontaneous wave of women’s protests was limited to the streets of Kabul and a few other cities, but never turned into a nationwide protest inside Afghanistan or a nationwide movement of Afghans outside Afghanistan. Afghan men also largely didn’t rally, leaving most of the public shaming of the Taliban to the women. The international community and mass media soon forgot about the Afghanistan they’d been obsessed with for so long, turning their focus instead to another headline grabbing war Ukraine.
Afghan women were effectively alone. The set of these conditions and the silence of so many key players has arguably helped the Taliban to easily create and implement the first “gender apartheid” system in Afghanistan.
A brief review of developments during the past two years of Taliban rule presents a disappointing and dark picture of the situation. The relative indifference of public opinion towards discrimination against women shows that even human and civil rights institutions and activists in this field are not willing to fight and work seriously in line with the demands of women in the absence of projects and financial resources.
Political movements do not look at women’s issues as national issues, and international human rights institutions do not act beyond publishing statements of their ‘concern’ and reports in the absence of coordinated domestic protests. This is while the internal protests are scattered and uncoordinated and the women’s efforts outside the country have also become somewhat redundant.
Now that the situation has somewhat stabilized, it is good to re-read and review the set of these efforts and the situation based on it. From the point of view of Rukhshana Media, in this review, the following are of fundamental importance:
First: Formulate a strategy to fight
Part of the dispersal of protests inside Afghanistan and the fractured efforts outside has been caused by the lack of strategy and the lack of an action plan. The protests are naturally occurring until now because the sudden fall of the “republic” and the shock caused by it led to spontaneous demonstrations in Afghanistan and a flurry of struggles abroad. But if the last two years has showed us anything, it is that the situation is much more serious and complicated than can be affected with this kind of struggle.
A strategic action plan is needed for an effective and fruitful fight. A program in which the set of existing conditions is reviewed and based on which different levels and layers of activity and its level of effectiveness are considered.
In the last two years, an important part of the energy of the struggle has been channelled into disagreements among women’s rights activists. This disharmony can be seen both at the level of practical activities and at the level of the production of literature and discourse on the status of women. Now, we are in a new stage. At this stage, awareness must be created using concepts that can mobilize public opinion.
From this angle, the concept of “gender apartheid” and “crimes against humanity” are two fundamental concepts all can agree to fight for women’s struggle. Emphasizing these concepts, opening their theoretical dimensions according to the existing documentation of the situation of women in Afghanistan, can be the source of serious change in women’s struggles even at the global level.
Considering the position of these two concepts in the legal systems, if women organize their activism under these two prongs at this stage of the struggle, they can ultimately put tangible pressure on the Taliban and ideally tie other demands of the Afghan people to their struggles.
Third: Legal action
If women do not have enough political tools to change the situation, there are, fortunately, many legal capacities to fill this gap. Practical action to prosecute Taliban leaders for crimes against humanity and concerted action to recognize “gender apartheid” in international humanitarian law provides good opportunities for the effectiveness of the campaign.
This action provides the basis for documenting the status of women and generating regular awareness in this field, which in turn is effective in creating cohesion and coordination among women activists. A notable experience in reporting the status of women shows that there is enough documentation to establish gender apartheid. The missing link in this field is practical action.
Fourth: Alignment of women’s rights activists in the region and the world
The experience of Iranian women’s struggles, after the death of Mahsa Amini, shows that the alignment of women’s rights activists at the regional and global level is a critical ally in the effectiveness of these efforts. A sense of global solidarity would be much easier for Afghanistan than Iran in the face of how women are being treated. And yet Iran was able to establish this solidarity far more deeply than Afghan women. The main problem might be rooted in a lack of work or inattention to attract world opinion.
If there is a clear plan to attract global attention, there is no doubt that these actions will lead to the mobilization and then the widespread alignment of the world’s public opinion in support of the struggle of Afghan women. Diversifying forms of struggle and mobilizing artists can also be effective in creating awareness and attracting the attention of world opinion.
Fighting for liberation is not easy in any society. Human rights struggles are often complex and full of obstacles. It is unrealistic to think that uncoordinated and a lack of strategic campaigns can bring about a change in such situations.
But if women’s rights activists join hands and focus their energy and strength within the framework of a measured action plan in line with the planned goals, this change is possible, and perhaps it can create a transformation in women’s struggles at the global level.
Beyond all this, the recognition of “gender apartheid” in the international humanitarian law system should be the main goal of these struggles.