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The abduction of women and girls shows Taliban’s determination to build gender apartheid

The Taliban have escalated its war against the people of Afghanistan. Since January 1, they have begun a campaign of abducting young women and girls in Kabul, Daikundi and Herat provinces and charging them with not observing the regime’s prescribed dress code for women. 

This latest grotesque measure is designed to implement the Taliban’s forced hijab decree which was issued on May 7, 2022, and which ordered all women in Afghanistan to “cover their faces” in public. The decree states that those who disobeyed risked their houses being identified and their male “guardians” punished or imprisoned. Now, they have escalated their actions by arresting women walking in public, even those wearing outfits that appear to conform with the Taliban’s hijab decree. And not surprisingly, the arrests have been focused on Hazara and Shia populated areas, illustrating how the Taliban’s policy of gender apartheid goes hand in hand with their policy of ethnic discrimination and bigotry.  

Taliban’s treatment of women have rightly been described as a “crime against humanity,” by the UN experts on human rights. Their latest repulsive innovation says a lot about the essence of the Taliban movement. It demonstrates that the Taliban are again at odds with the cultural and moral values of the people of Afghanistan. For the Taliban to construct a dystopian theocracy, they must hone their forces of repression and abduct young women and girls from the streets, which goes against all legal norms and conventions and is at odds with cultural and social values in the country, is a way for the Taliban to enforce its perversity.  

Why does the Taliban indulge in such grotesque behaviour? Because the Taliban wants to employ terror to force people to comply. For young women and girls to be suddenly arrested and roughed up by the armed Taliban on the streets is not only traumatizing but also dehumanizing. According to Afghanistan’s social norms, women who were detained overnight in a Taliban prison, are assumed to be sexually harrased (or raped) and therefore, lost their “honour” and have brought shame to their families. Sometimes, the families “restore” their honour by killing or eliminating the source of shame and dishonour. Thus, the Taliban’s harsh way of enforcing their dress code will have far-reaching consequences for families across Afghanistan and generations to come.     

It has been reported that the Taliban have released some of the women after their male guardians have signed letters guaranteeing future compliance with the Taliban dress code. It has also  been reported that the Taliban have extorted money from some of the families. In a statement published on Friday, UNAMA said it is investigating cases of women being released in exchange for money.  

By putting the honour of women on the line, the Taliban wants to effectively bar women from leaving their homes, even for a visit to a medical clinic. In essence, the policy to arrest women over hijab is turning families, especially men in Afghanistan, into unpaid Taliban’s enforcers and prison guards who will ensure the compliance of female members of their households. This means further isolation and despair for women and girls who have already lost so much that many would rather die to live under this repressive regime that denies their humanity. Afghanistan is the only country where women outnumber men in the number of suicide and attempted suicide.  

Insultingly, the Taliban began this perversely draconian measures in mainly Hazara and Shia neighbourhoods, which reiterates the Taliban’s bigotry and discriminatory policies toward minorities. Taliban have a long history of persecution of Hazaras and Shias that includes massacres of Hazara civilians in Bamayan and Mazar-e-Sharif in the 1990s, when the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan. In addition, the Hazaras continue to suffer from systematic discrimination and oppression by the regime while also being targetted by ISIS. In the past week, as ISIS was taking responsibility for two separate terrorist attacks on Hazara and Shia civilians, Taliban religious police were abducting women and girls from those same neighbourhoods.  

The escalation of the Taliban’s war on women shows the regime’s determination in denying women’s basic human rights and building their gender apartheid regime in Afghanistan. As we have witnessed over the two-and-a-half years, there is no end to the Taliban’s obsession to make women invisible. Under Taliban rule, a human life in dignity and peace is not possible, at least for women. Women have shown audacious tenacity and stood in the front line of resistance against the Taliban. The women and girls in Afghanistan have no option but to continue to fight until the end of Taliban theocracy when they can build a future that ensures equal and dignified treatment of all citizens.