MEDWAY, Massachusetts — On August 15, 2021, the Taliban ceased control of Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul, in what was a surprisingly rapid takeover with little resistance from the Afghan military or its allies. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the nation in fear of his life. He is currently in the United Arab Emirates, with the nation welcoming him on “humanitarian grounds.” A key catalyst for the takeover is the removal of U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. Women’s rights and lives are at stake as well as the future of foreign aid entering the nation, which Afghans desperately need. The fallout from the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has left many Afghans with little hope for the future.
The Future of Women’s Rights Following the Takeover
One of the primary issues on the surface of Afghan women’s rights is a difference in class between those living in more modern cities like Kabul and those living in isolated rural communities. Those living in urban areas prior to the Taliban takeover had many more rights than their rural counterparts, including access to education and the ability to work outside of the home. Those in rural villages often had to settle for just advocating for peace prior to the takeover due to the poor infrastructure and the dangers of making so-called radical demands.
The post-Taliban Afghan constitution established in 2004 gave women many new rights that they had never had before, most notably, better education. In 2003, less than 10% of Afghan girls attended primary schools. Fast-forward to 2017, 33% of girls were in primary schools and 39% of girls were in secondary schools. In total, “3.5 million Afghan girls were in school” in 2017 with approximately “100,000 studying in universities.” Considering these statistics, Afghanistan has made considerable progress in advancing women’s rights.
The Impact of Sharia Law
The interpretation of Sharia law in Afghanistan greatly impairs women’s rights as women must cover their faces and bodies from head to toe and can only go out in public with male chaperones in many regions of the nation. The Afghan legal system has many contradictions when it comes to women’s rights as government laws, sharia law and local laws often come into conflict with one another. Forced child marriages are very common throughout the nation, with one in three girls married off before the age of 18 to a man she has never met. Another major issue is that rape is seen in the same light as adultery throughout many parts of Afghanistan. This means that women are often viewed as guilty of adultery for any sexual violation endured and face severe consequences merely for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Future of Foreign Aid in Afghanistan
The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has put a complete halt on foreign aid to Kabul from the majority of the international community. Afghanistan no longer has a legitimate government, meaning there is no way to directly help the Afghan people without being on the ground in person. NATO has stopped sending any aid to Afghanistan for the time being. The Secretary of NATO Jens Stoltenberg announced the freezing of financial assistance to Afghanistan on August 17, 2021, during a press conference.
However, “Stoltenberg did not rule out” the possibility of future aid if a legitimate and inclusive Afghan government is eventually established. If aid were to return to Afghanistan in the future, distribution of it would be much more difficult now that most countries, including the United States, have closed their embassies and evacuated the majority of their people. NATO maintains a trust fund for the Afghan National Army to support defense efforts through 2024, but it is uncertain whether this will continue based on the current situation.
In addition to NATO’s response to the takeover, Germany has stopped development aid heading to Afghanistan as well, following the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Germany will not give any monetary aid to Afghanistan once the Taliban have total control, implement absolute Sharia law and declare the nation a caliphate. In total, Germany had planned to provide $500 million in aid to Afghanistan for 2021. International experts project that Afghanistan will need aid for many years to come.
Stopping the Taliban and Saving Afghan Lives
Despite the dire situation, there are some glimmers of hope. Within the past year, Medica Afghanistan “trained 157 staff from the police, justice and prison sectors on the topics of women’s rights, protection from violence and the ban on so-called ‘virginity tests’.” In 2020 alone, Medica Afghanistan provided advice on “psychosocial and legal issues” to more than 1,900 Afghan women suffering violence.
Although reconstruction in Afghanistan may seem out of reach, the Afghan people are still hopeful for a brighter tomorrow.
– Curtis McGonigle