ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan’s Tali­ban regime on Friday released a dec­ree on women’s rights which said wo­m­en should not be considered “pro­perty” and must consent to marriage, but failed to mention female access to education or work outside the home.

The Taliban have been under pressure from the international community, who have mostly frozen funds for Afghanistan, to commit to upholding women’s rights since the Islamist group took over the country on Aug 15.

“A woman is not a property, but a noble and free human being; no one can give her to anyone in exchange for peace... or to end animosity,” the Taliban decree, released by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, said.

It set out the rules governing marr­iage and property for women, stating women should not be forced into ma­r­riage and widows should have sh­are in their late husbands’ property. Courts should take into account the rules when making decisions, and religious affairs and information ministries should promote these rights, the decree said.

Two leading Afghan women praise the move

However, it made no mention of women being able to work or access facilities outside the home or educat­ion, which have been major concerns of the international community.

During its previous rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban banned women from leaving the house without a male relative and full face and head covering and barred girls from receiving education.

The Taliban say they have changed and high schools for girls in some provinces have been allowed to open. But many women and rights advocates remain sceptical.

The international community, which has frozen billions in central bank funds and development spending, has made women’s rights a key element of any future engagement with Afghanistan.

The country, which is also suffering from a banking liquidity crisis as the cash flow dries up due to sanctions, is facing the risk of economic collapse since the Taliban took over.

Two leading Afghan women described issuance of the decree on Friday as a major step forward.

“This is big, this is huge... if it is done as it is supposed to be; this is the first time they have come up with a decree like this,” said Mahbouba Seraj, the executive director of the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Centre, while speaking from Kabul to a Reuters Next conference.

She said that even before the Taliban took over the country on Aug 15, Afghan politicians had struggled to form such a clear policy on women’s rights around marriage.

“Now what we have to do as the women of this country is we should make sure this actually takes place and gets implemented,” said Seraj, whose shelter is a refuge for vulnerable women.

Roya Rahmani, the former ambassador for Afghanistan to the United States, echoed her optimism and added that it may partly be an attempt to smooth over international fears over the group’s track record on women’s rights as the Taliban regime seeks to get funding released.

“(It’s) an amazing thing, if it does get implemented,” Rahmani told the panel, adding details such as who would ensure that girls’ consent was not influenced by family members would be key.

“It’s a very smart move on the part of Taliban at this point because one of the (pieces of) news that is attracting the West’s attention is the fact that little girls are being sold as property to others in order to feed the rest of the family,” she said.

Seraj said the Taliban now needed to go further, calling for the group’s spokesman to release more rules clarifying women’s rights to access public spaces.

“What I am really waiting to hear next from the same group, from the same person is for him to send the decree regarding the education and right of work for the women of Afghanistan, that would be absolutely phenomenal,” she said.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2021

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