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What one nation under God really looks like: Afghanistan’s war on women

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afghanistan war on women

What’s going on in Afghanistan with regards to women is a cautionary tale.

The Washington Post has a recent editorial titled “The Taliban’s campaign against women continues. Don’t look away,” which warns that “a kind of darkness is descending upon the country from which the last United States and other Western troops withdrew on Aug. 30, 2021.”

The Taliban’s attacks against women’s rights include the Dec. 20 announcement that women are now forbidden to pursue higher education. This was perhaps not much of a surprise, since girls were already banned from attending middle and high school, but nevertheless was a blow. At the end of the year, the Taliban ordered all foreign and domestic NGOs in Afghanistan to suspend employing women, which is resulting in humanitarian chaos in a nation where at least 28 million people out of 41 million rely on humanitarian support and where 6 million are “one step away from famine.” Much of that aid was delivered women to women and has thus been suspended, both for practical considerations and as a matter of principle.

Why did the Taliban take such a measure, imperiling its own people (whose welfare, it must be said, has never been high on its list of priorities)? Because it was borrowing a page from Iran’s Islamic Republic: Too many female NGO employees were “improperly” wearing their hijab headscarves. As the Post reports, the Taliban has capitulated a bit to worldwide condemnation by allowing some exceptions. As in Iran, however, public executions and flogging are back. And the prisons are overflowing.

A separate report by the Post notes that “the Taliban has gutted the country’s justice system in its campaign to forge a religious emirate, by scrapping the Constitution and replacing the legal code with rules based on a draconian interpretation of Islamic law.” Its “purification” campaign is stamping out civil law, music and “the presence of women.” A deputy Taliban spokesman told the Post that the imposition of its interpretation of Islamic law “is a blessing for the government, the people, and it pleases God.” A 35-year-old judge was quoted saying of the courts: “We consult Allah’s law and only Allah’s law.” The Orwellian-named Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has closed shelters for women escaping abusive relationships. One former resident of a shelter told the Post, “The Taliban are putting some of them in prison. Others are just being killed.”

Yes, all of this “pleases God.” It’s so dismaying to see “deja vu all over again” in Afghanistan, to watch the hard-won progress over the last 20 years destroyed and the ruthless Taliban once more in charge. Religion’s biggest crime is placing dogma above people. When dogma and “pleasing God” becomes the sole object, beware — particularly if you’re a woman.

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