"We do exist!"

Facing the setbacks to women's rights under the Taliban

December 21, 2022
Afghan women

The democracy Afghan women have pursued for two decades has crumbled overnight, along with long-fought-for and well-earned fundamental rights.

UNDP Afghanistan

Since the Taliban takeover of our beloved Afghanistan in mid-August 2021, Afghan women and girls have been experiencing one of the gravest setbacks of rights in the history of our country. The democracy we pursued for two decades has crumbled overnight, and so have our long-fought-for and well-earned fundamental rights as women and citizens. The dreadful nightmare of that very first day for Taliban in power has brought darkness and fear that are yet to diminish.

About 20 million women and girls in Afghanistan, half of the population, have been sentenced to a long term of imprisonment, and much worse. Taliban has isolated us from our society, prohibiting us from working and participating in the political, economic, and social life. They restricted our rights to freedom of assembly and expression and deprived us of the very basic right to education at 12 years old and above. They have institutionalized discrimination against women and girls, imposed demeaning rules, closed courts that dealt with our rights violations, sacked female attorneys, and basically, denied us access to justice. Gender-based violence is increasing by the day. We are being systematically oppressed and erased by the system running our country, as if we do not exist. In fact, we do exist!

It is true that the setbacks we are surviving through are devastating, but Taliban cannot doom us to extinction. The dark age we have been brought into is our greatest motivation to perseverance and resilience, and our springboard to victory. Afghan women are very powerful and will fight their way back to existence and equal rights. We are the only force and power standing in the country, raising our voices, and doing everything we can. A lot needs to be done though.

The international community should see us as the changemakers that we are and should help us accordingly. How? At the launch of UNDP’s 10-Point Action Agenda for Advancing Gender Equality in Crisis Settings (10PAA), in November 2022, I told the organization’s leadership that since UNDP is implementing dozens of development projects in Afghanistan, for example, an increasing role for women can be facilitated with the authorities. The world should be aware that Taliban does not run the entire country in the same way. Even in the city of Kabul, they behave horrendously in some parts and much smoother in others. This can be capitalized on.

Supporting women-led civil society organizations that focus on resilience building, rights, empowerment, education, and protection should be prioritized. Facilitating a dialogue should also be on the table. We are already preparing ourselves for this, although I do not think that Taliban is ready for such a conversation. However, with the right approach, they can be, especially with the country on a downward spiral towards poverty. Afghanistan pre-Taliban was largely dependent on foreign aid that funded 75 percent of government spending. This is not the case anymore, and far from sustainable.

I know it will not be the easy path to take but working in this direction will help us to gradually retrieve what we had lost and enable a future transformation when the time is ripe. The only thing we need right now is for the world to support us. Not only will the lives of Afghan women and girls be significantly improved, but also will the well-being of an entire generation, a society that is fed up with decades of wars and oppression and is very much ready to embrace freedom.