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Recent abduction of women reveals the Taliban’s goal of completely removing females from the public sphere

The Taliban have escalated their discriminatory and anti-women policies. Since January 1, they have been arbitrarily detaining and beating females in public spaces that they believe are “spreading and encouraging others to wear a bad hijab.” Even girls who are careful to follow Taliban rules by wearing modest outfits and face veils are being targetted, sources within Afghanistan report. Some are being released after being lashed for wearing what the Taliban deem “improper” outfits, other women have vanished completely, transferred to unknown locations after being taken by the Taliban.  

Gender – specifically femininity and womanhood – has been turned into a criminal matter in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s implementation of policies of segregation, discrimination, and gender suppression are making all women the target of a systematic, annihilative, and degrading political agenda. 

Through their systematic gender segregation, and prohibition of female education, work, and free movement, the Taliban continue to break their own boundaries of cruelty and atrocity each passing day. As Amnesty International asks that the Taliban’s treatment of girls and women be investigated as a crime against humanity of gender persecution, and while Afghanistan’s prisons are filled with innocent women and men, including critics, protestors, and freethinkers, the Taliban are now committing new criminal acts by abducting women from the streets under the charge of “improper veiling.” 

The terrorist regime’s dehumanization and eradication of women from society is based on their narrow interpretation of religious sources, including the Quran and traditions. While gender inequality is part of Islamic sharia, the Taliban’s interpretation is more rigid as it intertwines sharia with Pashtun tribal culture and tradition. From September 2021 to May 2023, the Taliban regime issued more than 50 edicts designed to banish women from public life. This level of obsession and bias concerning women is astounding, especially considering the exorbitant costs it has generated for the Taliban in terms of international credibility.  

While women’s lives have never been idyllic in Afghanistan, there were relatively more opportunities and possibilities in the past 20 years, especially when it came to gender equality and, consequently, the humanization and moralization of women’s active roles in society and politics. That women were the main victims of the negotiations between the United States and the Taliban exposes that there is often no room in international politics for human rights and ethics. 

The removal of women from social life and the public sphere is also a removal of humanity and ethics from society and culture, which are among modern civilization’s most significant achievements. The loss of the twin pillars of liberty and equality results in the sudden collapse of the protective ceiling of modernity for development without the support of those pillars is impossible.  One example in how the Taliban negate rationality and freedom is their belief in the propagation of virtue and preventing vices or firstly, the belief in eternal and absolute virtues, and secondly, the command for individuals to abide by them. The first results from the Taliban’s dogmatic beliefs, and the second is doomed by human intellectual and moral incapability to discern good and bad matters and appropriate behaviour. Yet both those beliefs are the focus of the Taliban leadership’s policies in both theory and practice. 

In those first days after seizing power in 2021, the Taliban transformed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs into the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, while suppressing women’s protests and also detaining, harassing, and torturing women. At the same time, the closure of most social and human rights organizations means that allegations of misconduct and assaults by Taliban officials and affiliates have gone unaddressed. Meanwhile, the Taliban harassment and abuse of girls and women is creating widespread psychological damage, including deaths by suicide,, along with their forced exodus from the country. 

Though it’s been two years since their rise to power, the Taliban still haven’t established any legitimate laws, whether regulations or a constitution. As a result, its members and allies act as their own police, interrogators, prosecutors, and judges. Left out of this decision-making process are most of the population, especially women.  

Such political Islam (revivalists, reformists, religious modernists, religious intellectuals, etc.) becomes discredited and ineffective due to its disbelief in foundational critical thinking, modern science, as well as human and gender equality and freedom. Since the Renaissance, societies around the world have  paved their way toward growth and development, often through trial and error. However, political Islam (ranging from Sayed Qutb’s views to those of Maududi and beyond) has acted like a plague on the lives of Muslim communities and continues to victimize them while being the leading cause of decadence of their ruling classes. By negating democracy, the Taliban seeks to be recognized as an heir to this ideological line. As representatives of God, they believe they are mandated to implement Islamic sharia in Afghanistan. 

The lack of widespread dissemination of rationality, scientific thinking, and secularism has resulted in comprehensive regressions in many Islamic societies. With little critical thinking, freedom, or equality, those societies are deprived of the opportunities for fundamental cultural, social, and economic change. The comprehensive ignorance and backwardness have allowed corrupt rulers to remain in power with the collusion with profit-seeking religious leaders. As a result, their decadence continues unabated. Meanwhile, the backwardness of these societies, along with corruption and the rulers’ lack of legitimacy and popularity, has led to their dependence on external powers. . 

Meanwhile, the exclusion of women due to the inherent patriarchy of political Islam has deprived those nations of  half of their productive workforce, to say nothing of the mental and physical cost imposed on women. The result is the creation of societies that are soulless, insensitive, and harsh.  

One of the pillars of human and gender equality is financial independence. A woman must be emancipated from her financial and economic dependency on a man in order to have the courage to exercise her rights and freedoms. One tool of male dominance to sustain control is a woman’s financial dependenc. The consequence of the Taliban’s policies of eradicating women from public and economic life and depriving them of legal rights is their degradation to mere bread-eaters and sexual slaves of men. 

Up to this point, the excessive self-interest of the international community, combined with the backwardness, ineffectiveness, and corruption of national authorities, have effectively deprived Afghanistan of both dignity and humanity. A society that used to be engulfed in systemic misogyny and gender segregation but was showing gradual signs of change toward civility and modernity has been abandoned and allowed to decline into an abyss. What the Taliban has brought upon our people and society with its rejection of rationality and science and elimination of human freedom and equality is still not fully understood. We are still under the rubble of this foundational upheaval, and it is only a matter of time before we fully realize the disaster wrought upon us by the dominance of this regressive terrorist group and its ideology of  discrimination and gender segregation. 

*Paiman Arman is a pseudonym for a writer and human rights activist.