Author- Yash Choudhary, Surbhi Pareek
“War does not determine who is right, but only who is left.”
~ Bertrand Russell
On 15th August 2021, the whole world saw history repeat itself as Afghanistan once again went into the hands of the Taliban. It was astonishing to witness the Taliban quickly pacing forward capturing more and more areas but more disappointing was the reaction of the Afghanistan army. Minimal resistance and deserted posts were a common scene. Millions of hopes have been shattered and the future of Afghanistan seems in shambles. Since the Taliban, in its first media conference, makes it clear to bring back the Sharia law the horrors of the common masses have known no bounds. Most affected amongst the all are women of Afghanistan. The fear of turning 20 years of development into rubble soon is very haunting. In 2019-20, Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (GIWPS) published the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Index in which Afghanistan ranked 166th out of 167 countries which indicates the poor conditions of women in Afghanistan. Taliban taking over again could prove to be the straw that will break the proverbial camel’s back. But was it always the same? Flipping through the pages of history it’s interesting to see that Afghanistan was not as infamous for women’s conditions as it is today.
Conditions of the Afghan Women in the 1920s and 1970s
Improvements in women’s status were witnessed mostly in two periods – the 1920s and 1970s. First, during the reign of Amanullah in 1923. He focused on liberating the women from the tribal cultural norms. He was against the practices of the veil system and polygamy. The scenario of education also improved for women during his reign. The second period came in the late 1970s. Participation of women in educational universities and as representatives in parliament rose quickly. The era witnessed new and efficient land reforms as well as the abolition of bride price activities. Further the age of marriage was also raised for both men and women. But soon enough both the era had to face resistance from the subsequent rulers which stalled the attempts to further women’s status in Afghanistan.
The Current Stance of the Taliban
Efforts to convince the skeptical global powers and the wary population of Afghanistan, of the sudden change in nature of the Taliban, are in full swing. This sudden change is looked down on with suspicion all over the world.
The new Taliban promises to honor the rights of women but within the norms of Islamic law. General amnesty has been promised and women are encouraged to rejoin the government. Although, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has promised to provide women with the environment to work and study Bit ground reality seems to differ greatly for time being.
Promises of Taliban appear to be very positive but at the same time when it comes to women’s rights, the terms are very generic. It’s now open to the interpretation of the Taliban which, on analyzing the Taliban’s previous regime, might be problematic.
What is Sharia Law?
The legal system of Islam is called Sharia law. It is derived from Quran as well as books like Sunnah and Hadith. It is a code of living for all Muslims which includes rules of prayer, fasting, donations, etc. Sharia law is not rigid in nature. It is Complex and interpretations mostly depend on the Islamic scholars and preachers. It might differ in different places. It is mainly a code of ethical conduct for Muslims but it deals with crime and punishment too.
Do Sharia Laws Override International Laws and Conventions Related to Women?
Afghan women’s fundamental rights are jeopardized by the Taliban-led government’s threat to constitutional and international law safeguards. Enhancing and safeguarding women’s rights in Afghanistan has been a prominent aim for international donors since 2002. In reality, however, these legislative safeguards are unlikely to withstand the upcoming shift because they are neither commonly acknowledged nor uniformly implemented in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has ratified a lot of international treaties and conventions, one among which is the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW). By ratifying the Convention on March 5, 2003, it committed itself to fulfill the objectives of the Convention.
CEDAW deals with topics such as nationality, freedom of religion, movement, opinion, and association, sexual and reproductive rights, rights to education, healthcare, and access to political and public rights of women. The major issue challenging the efficacy of CEDAW is its provision that provides states to impose reservations. For example, many Muslim states such as Bangladesh, Egypt, Morocco, among others have made reservations to allow non-compliance whenever the Convention conflicts with the Islamic Sharia. Further, there are no enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance or sanction non-compliance.
For Afghanistan, there are two major challenges relating to CEDAW. Firstly, according to the last constitution, Afghanistan is an ‘Islamic Republic’ which declares that ‘the beliefs and provisions of the Islam’ have precedence over any law in Afghanistan. This provision places interpretation of the Sharia Law over and above constitutional guarantees. Secondly, the people of Afghanistan see CEDAW as, western-imperialist imposition, a potential threat to Afghanistan’s cultural and religious traditions. The only way to convert these objectives into reality is when Afghans themselves take personal ownership of such instruments and participate willingly. Uncertainties remain, in the new Taliban regime, about the working mechanisms and the future of CEDAW in Afghanistan.
Impact of Sharia law on women in Afghanistan
During the previous regime of 1996-2001, the Taliban supported punishments in line with their strict interpretation of Islam’s legal system, Sharia law, and public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers were a common sight. Most of the top ranks are occupied by men which makes people wary that whether or not the right of women will find its place in political and legal order.
Ground reports have flooded the internet showing us the horrifying reality of women’s plight. Women are being beaten and a ban has been placed on the shops to sell goods to any woman who is without a male relative accompanying her. Islamic insurgents have given orders to village elders and ‘Mullahs’ to identify girls above age 15 and widows below age 45 to marry their fighters. Photography, filming, and display of women’s pictures have been outlawed. Hijabs have been made compulsory for all women, although burka isn’t.
Until recently, Zakia Khudadadi was about to become the first woman from Afghanistan to compete in the Tokyo Paralympic Games for Taekwondo. But now as the Taliban has regained control of Afghanistan she is unable to board the flight from Kabul airport. She has made a public appeal to seek help from various global institutions to help her participate in the Paralympic games and protect the rights of Afghan women. The fate is unclear but still, she has managed to be a symbol of women empowerment for the whole world and inspires us all.
Amidst the chaotic situation in Afghanistan stories of various women have been surfacing who have not surrendered to the oppressive Taliban regime. One such brave woman is, Salima Mazari, the Hazara district Governor of Chaharkint, Balkh. According to some local reports, Salima Mazari, one of the few female district governors in the country, is believed to have been captured. But before the Taliban’s sweeping takeover of Afghanistan, Mazari recruited locals to supplement the conventional security forces in the district to face the Taliban. Mazari did not flee the country but instead, she stayed and fought for the rights of the Afghan people and emerged as a ray of hope in this darkness.
With the advent of the Taliban in power, the rights of the women and girls in Afghanistan are hanging in the air. Neither the international community all over the world nor the activist groups present inside the country can afford to rely on the promises of the Taliban. If they truly believe that they have been changed in the past two decades, they will have to demonstrate the same through their actions. Otherwise, the international community will have to intervene to uphold the rights of Afghans before it gets too late.
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