What is it like to be a woman under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan?  What happened in the 1990s and future prospects

(CNN Spanish) — Prisoners inside their homes and invisible in public space. This is how Amnesty International defined the fate of women after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996 until 2001. And although they have now said that they are willing to guarantee some rights to women, there are already some signs that the opposite could happen .

Before the Taliban took power in the 1990s, the law protected women in Afghanistan. A 2001 report from the United States Department of State exemplifies the situation with some figures: at the beginning of the decade, 70% of teachers, half of government officials and university students, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women. . Since the 1920s they had consecrated the right to vote and by the 1960s the Constitution had provisions related to equality.

The situation changed radically when the Taliban took power: they oppressed women simply for “the ‘crime’ of being born women”, according to the words of Amnesty International, which is collected by the lawyer Dean Obeidallah in this CNN column.

Here’s a look at what life was like during the previous Taliban regime.

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education and work

The Taliban banned the education of girls in schools. Home learning was tolerated in some instances, but also generally repressed, according to the US State Department. This means that women, who until then could study even at university, were left without opportunities.

There were schools in the rural areas that tried to continue operating secretly, in fear of being discovered. Research published in 2001 in the ILSA Journal of International & Comparative Law collected by Amnesty International gives the example of a teacher who, according to some reports, would have insisted on continuing to teach, for which she would have been “beaten with the butt of a rifle and then killed after being shot in the head and stomach. Her death was witnessed by her students, her husband and her daughter.”

Women were also prohibited, with few exceptions (for example, jobs linked to agriculture in rural areas and in some health facilities), from working outside the home. And this, in addition to a severe restriction on freedom, resulted in poverty: thousands of widowed women —in many cases as a result of civil life— who supported themselves with their income were forced to beg or sell their belongings to support the families.

Access to health

In 1997, the Taliban ruled that men and women should be treated in different hospitals and all female health workers were prohibited from performing their duties in Kabul’s 22 hospitals, according to an article published in the American University Washington College of Law. . Only women were allowed to attend in a facility that had 35 beds and where there was no clean water, electricity or equipment to perform diagnoses and surgeries, among other resources.

After an international campaign, that measure was partially modified and some women were allowed to work in the sector and care elsewhere. However, the level of care they received was very low.

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“Under the Taliban regime, women were given only very rudimentary access to healthcare and medical care, endangering the health of women and, in turn, their families. In most hospitals, doctors Male doctors could only examine a female patient if she was fully clothed, precluding the possibility of meaningful diagnosis and treatment,” says the State Department.

That is, the doctors could not lift the burqa or look at or touch the women’s body. To such a level that, for example, even dentists who treated women were beaten and even sent to prison for doing so.

By 2001, Afghanistan had the second worst rate of women dying in childbirth: 16 out of 100 died in childbirth.

And the situation of women had a high cost in terms of mental health: the NGO Physicians for Human Rights reported high rates of anxiety, depression and suicide among Afghan women in 2001, according to the State Department report.


Before the Taliban took control, the burqa already existed in Afghanistan and was worn by some women, for example in rural areas. However, it was not compulsory, and in the cities many women simply covered their heads with scarves.

Under the regime, the burqa—a garment that covers from the feet to the head, including the eyes that are covered behind mesh—became compulsory. This requirement was enforced even for young girls, as young as eight or nine, according to the State Department.

Its use was enforced with threats, fines and beatings.

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In addition, makeup, nail polish, and shoes that made noise, among other clothing and accessories, were prohibited.

The wearing of the burqa, which is prohibited in several Western countries, is not compulsory according to the Koran. Islam’s holy text urges women to dress modestly, but makes no reference to a specific such garment.

And this also has an economic dimension: women who could not afford to buy a burqa or get one, could not leave their homes.

Prohibition of going out without the company of a man

Women could not go out in public unless accompanied by a male member of the family such as a father, brother or husband. The rule had no exceptions, not even if women needed to go to the doctor.

Women could not drive or take a taxi without the company of a man. They could only be transported in special buses with painted windows so that no one could see them from outside. On those same buses, the driver was separated by a curtain and those in charge of collecting the tickets from the women were children under 15 years of age.

The houses where women lived also had to have the curtains drawn so that they could not be seen from outside.


“The penalties for breaking Taliban rules were barbaric,” explains Dean Obeidallah. Women were flogged for showing an inch or two of skin under the burka, beaten if they tried to study, and could be stoned to death if found guilty of adultery, according to Amnesty International.

In addition to beatings, acts of violence included rape, kidnapping, and forced marriage. In fact, 62% of women were married before the age of 18.

Amnesty International explains that, in areas that remained under Taliban control from 2001 onwards, violence against women continued with violent punishments for what the group perceived as violations of their interpretation of Islamic provisions.

What will happen now with the women in Afghanistan?

In the last two decades, women began to be recognized again as subjects of rights in Afghanistan. The 2004 Constitution guaranteed equal rights and quotas for women’s participation in Parliament, among other provisions, according to Amnesty International. More than three million girls are enrolled in schools. By 2019, more than 1,000 women had their own businesses. Improved access to health services.

Despite the improvements, there was still a long way to go to improve the situation of women in the country. A road threatened by the Taliban takeover.

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This time around, the Taliban are presenting themselves as more moderate, CNN reported. They affirmed that they are committed to the peace process, an inclusive government and willing to maintain some rights for women, for example education.

In some provinces where they have governed in the last 20 years, they have guaranteed some limited rights to women. It is possible that in the short term they will make some concessions, according to Sam Kiley.

A 2020 Human Rights Watch report explained that “although the Taliban officially state that they no longer oppose girls’ education, very few Taliban officials actually allow girls to go to school after puberty. girls’ schools at all. Last year, the situation varied by region, according to the organization.

Activist Mahbouba Seraj of the Afghanistan Women’s Network mentioned in an interview with CNN the case of an ulama – a Muslim cleric – according to whom women in Herat had already been told to stay home because the reason why there is a problem with the new generation in Afghanistan (…) it is because the mothers are not at home” and that, except for exceptions in which they will be able to work, they must remain indoors taking care of the children.

However, at this time Seraj, who has been working for women’s rights in the country for years, thinks that the ulama is isolated, or if he is part of the Taliban, or if he represents the vision that the regime will impose. At this point, and in the midst of the terror that part of society is experiencing, the only option left is to wait, she explains.

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