WHAT better illustrates the Afghan Taliban’s misogynistic and mediaeval worldview than the fact that not a single woman was invited to the three-day gathering in Kabul of over 3,500 clerics and ‘people of influence’ from around Afghanistan? As though to reinforce the irrelevance of women and the fact they are not considered individuals in their own right, the Taliban asserted that women would indeed be represented, but only by their fathers and sons. The meeting, where participants pledged allegiance to the Taliban and its reclusive leader Mullah Hibatullah, failed to address contentious issues such as allowing girls access to secondary education. No wonder that, on Sunday, Afghan women activists in self-exile denounced the Taliban as illegitimate rulers because their regime was endorsed by those who represented only half the nation.
The Afghan Taliban have proved they are no different from the earlier cohort that ruled much of Afghanistan from 1996 till 2001. The extreme manifestations of misogyny that marked that first, brutal regime are apparent this time around as well. One objective is to make women invisible by excising them from government jobs, closing off avenues of education to them and by ordering them to cover themselves up in all-encompassing burqas. Such steps, as well as the ban on women travelling alone by air or on inter-city routes by road, are calculated to strip them of their agency and financial independence. The effect that these repressive measures are having on their mental well-being can only be imagined. That the Taliban leader, when he spoke at last week’s gathering, issued a rebuke to those urging the hard-line regime to keep its word to the international community about respecting women’s rights, indicates a change in attitude is not on the cards. The only way out of this depressing situation may be for Muslim countries to continue to engage with the Taliban and impress upon them the long-term damage they are inflicting on their nation by trampling on the rights of half its population.
Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2022