The Taliban (students of Muslim religious studies) has taken over Afghanistan (again) and this means several things for the people. For women and girls, it resurrects the fear of a compromise on their freedom.
The Taliban Reign
On September 26, 1996, the Taliban captured Afghan's capital, Kabul and two years later, they were in control of a major part of Afghanistan. At first, it wasn't all bad, the people accepted the Taliban because they were able to put an end to the corrupt practices of their former president, Burhanuddin Rabbani. They also curbed lawlessness and made the area safe for commerce.
In all of this 'good', the Taliban also infringed on human rights, having an extremist interpretation of Sharia law. They went as far as carrying out public executions of convicted murderers and amputating those guilty of theft. During the Taliban reign in 1996-2001, women's rights were highly infringed on, they were not allowed to have any education after the age of 8. They were also not allowed to do any work and were basically under house arrest.
Women had to be accompanied by male relatives whenever they needed to go out (very harsh considering that a lot of women lost their male relatives in the civil war) and compulsorily wear a burka. Disobeying these rules meant bouts of flogging in the streets and death by stoning if they refused loyalty to the Taliban. These restrictions denied women participation in society rendering them invalids unable to live normal lives.
One area of the Taliban rule that had a detrimental effect on women was the inaccessibility to healthcare. Female health workers were not allowed to work in all the 22 hospitals in Kabul and there was a segregation of males and females in hospitals. Male and female contact was not allowed and so, it was hard for male physicians to carry out a proper diagnosis because they were not allowed to lift the women's burqas. Male dentists also got punished for looking into the mouths and treating the teeth of women.
Women's reproductive health suffered immensely as Afghanistan had a high mortality rate even before the Taliban took over. The Taliban rules only made it worse as they went as far as policing and surveilling hospitals. In 2000, Afghan had the highest maternal mortality rate in the world at 1450 per 100,000 live births.
The few female physicians who were allowed to work under the rules negotiated by International Red Cross were constantly harassed if they were not properly dressed in burqas.
Studies showed women were highly inconvenienced being forced to wear a burqa. Burqas have been linked to hearing loss, restricting vision, headaches, asthma, and skin problems. In its study in 1999, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) found that 97% of Afghan women displayed symptoms of depression and 86% showed anxiety.
The ban on women working led to a rise in unemployment which cut off a source of income rendering a lot of homes poor and malnourished.
The Taliban years were horrific for the Afghan woman and the quality of life drastically reduced, not only demeaning to the Afghan woman but to humanity as a whole.
Post Taliban years came with a lot of improvement as girls were able to go to school and there was access to healthcare. There were a lot more hospitals and thousands of trained healthcare workers. Maternal mortality rate reduced to 638 per 100,000 live births as of 2017. This immense growth in the last couple of years is now threatened as the Taliban have once again taken over Afghanistan.
Real Cause for Fear
The Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen on Wednesday 18 August 2021 told Sky news in response to their question about respecting the freedom of women, "Of course... we are committed to women's rights, to education, to work and to freedom of speech, in the light of our Islamic rules".
This is hard to believe as the Taliban has a rather horrid history of suppressing women's rights. As the Taliban swept across Afghanistan, many women and girls have been seen fleeing for their lives and safety, holding on to their freedom because their health and general well-being literally depend on it.