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Women's Rights In Afghanistan; A Critical Study Of Women's Right Under Taliban Regime And United Nations Approach

The issue of women's rights in Islam has been a contentious area of discussions and intense debates in the Muslim world. Islam elevated the social status of women by ensuring that they are treated respectfully by their husbands, sons and fathers. A husband and wife have an equal role to play in providing support, comfort and protection for one another, fitting each other like a garment fits the body.

Islam is the only religion that gave women the right to an education, property rights, the right of inheritance, and freedom of married and divorced women more than 1,500 years ago. Similar rights were not available to women in Europe for many centuries after the advent of Islam.

Prophet Muhammad said:
"A person who is blessed with a daughter or daughters and makes no discrimination between them and his sons and brings them up with kindness and affection, will be as close to me in Paradise as my forefinger and middle finger are to each other."

The Holy Quran repeatedly proclaims men and women's equality in spiritual status:
"But who so does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter Heaven." (Ch.4: V.125)

Regarding education for girls, Prophet Muhammad said:
"It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge." On the economic front, Islam entitles women to possess money, property and other assets.

The Rights of Women in Islam

Allah has created both men and women without subordination of one another. Islam has ensured gender equality and women's rights in every sphere of their life. Islam has guaranteed rights of men and women in an equal degree and there is no discrimination between men and women. But due to the prevailing socio-cultural norms and practices in Afghanistan sometimes the guarantee of Islam do not get translated into tangible actions.

The holy Quran, in addressing the believers, often uses the expression "believing men and women" to accentuate the equality of both male and female in regard to their particular duties, rights, virtues and merits. Islam is such a religion which has first given to the women a place of dignity and honour because before the advent of Islam, there were huge discriminations towards women.

Islam abolished inhumanity, inequality, discrimination towards women as well as gave a complete code of conduct for both male and female. Prior to the arrival of Islam, the pagan Arabs used to bury their female children alive, make women dance naked in the vicinity of Ka'ba during their annual fairs and treated women just like slaves or chattels and they used women only for their sexual contentment who possess no rights, dignity, honour or position.[1]

Core issues:
Women's rights in Afghanistan have been varied throughout history. Women officially gained equality under the 1964 constitution. However, these rights were taken away in the 1990s through different temporary rulers such as the Taliban during the civil war. Especially during the latter's rule, women had very little to no freedom, specifically in terms of civil liberties.
Afghan women and girls played a pivotal role throughout the history of their country.

It is essential they continue to play this role and their hard-won rights are protected.

In 1919, Afghan women became eligible to vote before many other nations. The first girls' school was opened in 1921 and the 1964 constitution ushered in equality for all.

As the situation changes daily, these enormous gains may be eroded. 2020 was the deadliest year on record for Afghan women. 2021 is set to eclipse this. Women, boys and girls made up close to half of all civilian casualties in the first half of 2021, comprising 46 per cent of all civilian casualties. 80 per cent of nearly a quarter of a million Afghans forced to flee since the end of May are women and children.

To understand the rights, honour, dignity and status of women in Islam, it is sufficient to judge the position of women before the advent of Islam. At that time, they were like slaves and most often their positions were worse than animals. The Prophet (peace be upon him) proposed to stop any sorts of torture, cruelty or inhuman to women

He showed greatness towards them. He advised the Muslims:
"Fear Allah in respect of women." And: "The best of you are them who behave best to their wives." And: "A Muslim must not hate his wife, and if he is displeased with one bad quality in her, let him be pleased with one that is good." And: "The more civil and kind a Muslim is to his wife, the more perfect in faith he is".[2]

In Islam spiritual equality have guaranteed for both men and women. Allah says, "Whoso does good whatever male or female, and is a believer, shall enter Paradise and they shall not be wronged a whit." (4:125)

But currently in many Muslim countries' women are not consider according to the rights given them in Islam. In many societies Muslim are practicing their own cultures and customs and women are being subject to cultural issues, patriarchal features of their society and also political oppression.[3]

Women rights under International Human Rights Laws

The following international human rights instruments specifically address women's rights[4]:

  1. African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (8(2), 29, and 43)
  2. African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights(art. 18(3)); along with the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa ("Maputo Protocol")
  3. African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (art. 14(e))
  4. American Convention on Human Rights(arts. 1(1), 6(1), 27(1))
  5. American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man(arts. 2 and 7)
  6. Arab Charter on Human Rights (arts. 3, 4, 10, 33, 34, 41, and 43)
  7. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
  8. Convention on the Nationality of Married Women
  9. Convention on the Political Rights of Women
  10. Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others
  11. Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention)
  12. European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention on Human Rights) (art. 14)
  13. European Social Charter (arts. 4(3) and 8) & European Social Charter (revised) (arts. 4(3), 8 and 27)
  14. Inter-American Convention on the Granting of Civil Rights to Women
  15. Inter-American Convention on the Granting of Political Rights To Women
  16. Inter-American Convention on the Nationality of Women
  17. Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Convention of Bel�m do Par�)
  18. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(arts. 2, 3 and 26)
  19. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (arts. 2, 3 and 7(i))
  20. United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (paras. 6, 8, 23 and 53)
  21. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (preamble)


The United Nations (UN) Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is the most comprehensive treaty on the rights of women. It condemns any form of discrimination against women and reaffirms the importance of guaranteeing equal political, economic, social, cultural and civil rights to women and men. See Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (adopted 18 December 1979, entered into force 3 September 1981), 1249 UNTS 13. As of May 2014, 188 States are party to CEDAW, out of 193 UN Member States.

CEDAW provides that there should be equal political, economic, social, cultural and civil rights for women regardless of their marital status and requires States to enact national legislation banning discrimination (articles 1, 2 and 3). It permits States to take temporary special measures to accelerate the achievement of equality in practice between men and women (Article 4), and to take actions to modify social and cultural patterns that perpetuate discrimination (Article 5). States parties agree that contracts and other private instruments that restrict the legal capacity of women shall be deemed null and void (Article 15). The Convention also addresses the need for equal access to education (Article 10).

CEDAW requires States to take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination in matters relating to marriage and family and underlines the equal responsibilities of men and women in the context of family life (Article 16). The Convention also emphasizes the need for childcare facilities and other social services to help women satisfy family obligations along with work responsibilities and participation in public life (Article 11).

CEDAW calls for non-discriminatory health services for women, including family planning services (Article 12). Special attention is given to the problems faced by rural women (Article 14), sexual trafficking of women, and other sexual exploitation of women (Article 6).

States have made numerous reservations to CEDAW, purporting to limit the treaty's domestic application. Most of the reservations are designed to preserve the authority of national or religious law that may contradict CEDAW, or to withdraw the State from the arbitration provision found in Article 29. Nonetheless, CEDAW remains the most widely applicable human rights treaty dedicated to women's rights.

Gender discrimination

Gender discrimination is not only a consequence of existing laws and policies, but also of long standing traditions, cultural practices and religious customs. In Afghanistan women may be denied employment or educational opportunities because of their gender, may be subjected to violence, and may not have adequate access to legal and law enforcement protection against domestic violence. Despite States' obligations under international law, women around the world continue to experience violations and abuses of their human rights.

Some of the most harmful and prevalent abuses occur in the following areas: violence against women, reproductive health, participation in society and government, marriage and family, labor and employment, and property rights. In addition, the international community has recognized the particular challenges faced by women who are human rights defenders.

Women Rights post-Taliban 1.0 regime

In late 2001, Afghanistan, under Hamid Karzai was formed a new government, which included women like in pre-1990s Afghanistan.[5]

Under the new constitution of 2004, 27 percent of the 250 seats in the House of the People are reserved for women.[6]

In March 2012, President Karzai endorsed a "code of conduct" which was issued by the Ulema Council. Some of the rules state that "women should not travel without a male guardian and should not mingle with strange men in places such as schools, markets and offices." Karzai said that the rules were in line with Islamic law and that the code of conduct was written in consultation with Afghan women's group.[7]

Rights organizations and women activists said that by endorsing this code of conduct, Karzai was endangering "hard-won progress in women's right since the Taliban fell from power in 2001.

The overall situation for Afghan women improved during the 2000s, particularly in major urban areas, but those living in rural parts of the country still faced many problems.

Under Afghan law, females across the country are permitted to drive vehicles.[8] They are also permitted to participate in certain international events such as Olympic Games and robot competitions. Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. have expressed concern at women's rights in the country. Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security ranks Afghanistan as one of the worst countries for women.

How life has improved for Afghan women over the past two decades and how it has not?

Many Afghan women, particularly those in urban areas, have much to lose from a bad intra-Afghan deal. During the 1990s, the Taliban not only brutally imposed social restrictions on women such as mandatory burqa coverings, but, more fundamentally and deleteriously, restricted their access to health care, education, and jobs. It prohibited women from appearing in public spaces without a male chaperon, de facto sentencing widows and their children to starvation.

The Taliban regime destroyed Afghan institutions and the economy, which was already devastated by decades of fighting and the Soviet scorched-earth counterinsurgency strategy. The resulting immiseration critically affected women and children.

Women Right Under Taliban 2.0 Regime

In August 2021, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and the United States left the country, and the Taliban took control and established a new all-male government. The interim government has not been recognized internationally, since the international community linked recognition to respect for women's and minority rights.[9]

Despite repeated assurances by the Taliban that women's rights would be respected, severe restrictions have been placed on their access to education and work. In some areas, the Taliban forced women to stop working altogether.[10]

Education in lower grades resumed only in classes segregated by gender. In higher grades (7 through 12) and at the university level, classes for girls and women have been suspended.

On 27 September, the new chancellor of Kabul University, Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat, announced that women were not allowed to return to university to either study or work.[11]

The Taliban cited security concerns as the reason for these measures, however, did not specify under which conditions girls would be allowed to return to school.[12]

The new Taliban interim cabinet does not include any women as either ministers or deputy ministers. The Ministry of Women's Affairs has been abolished. The protests by women that followed these announcements, especially in Kabul, have been met with violence by the Taliban security forces. [13]

Hence, UN says women in Afghanistan are entitled to human rights. These include the right to live free from violence and discrimination; to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; to be educated; to own property; to vote; and to earn an equal wage.

But across Afghanistan many women and girls still face discrimination on the basis of sex and gender. Gender inequality underpins many problems which disproportionately affect women and girls, such as domestic and sexual violence, lower pay, lack of access to education, and inadequate healthcare.

Islam is the complete and comprehensive code of life which covers all aspects of human life from cradle to grave. Allah has created both male and female for worship and thralldom and to play distinct roles in the society but there is no superiority between them except on the ground of morality. Islam has guaranteed the rights of women in every sphere of life like men. It is only the religious which does not discriminate between men and women. It also does not allow the domination of men over women.

In the dark age, when women were treated as material things and who had no rights and if the husband of a woman died during her lifetime, then she had to burn herself alive when the dead body was cremated and then Islam not only protected the women but also gave them right, dignity and honour.

Islam does not impose any financial liability on the women rather ensuring her right of dower, maintenance and inheritance. Islam does not treat women "an instrument of the Devil". In Islam, she has freedom to involve herself in any social and economic activities and even in politics.

  1. Doi, A. R. (1992) Women in Shari'ah (Islamic Law) (4th Ed.). Kula Lumpur: A. S. Noordeen
  2. Ahmed, G. (1997). Women's Rights and Family Values: Islamic and Modern Perspective. Dhaka: Era Enterprise.
  3. Sechzer, J. A. (2004). "Islam and Women: Where Tradition Meets Modernity": History and Interpretations of Islamic Women's Status. Sex Roles, 51, 263-272
  4. Available at visited on 15 September 2021
  5. Women's Rights Our Red Line In Peace Process: Ghani". TOLOnews. 12 April 2019. Retrieved 2 August 2021
  6. It is time': Afghanistan's female candidates promise change". Retrieved 26 August 2021
  7. Hamid Karzai backs clerics' move to limit Afghan women's rights". The Guardian. London. August 27 2021.
  8. In a first, 40 women issued driving licenses in Helmand". Pajhwok Afghan News. 28 March 2019. Retrieved 28 August 2021.
  9. Al Jazeera (21 September 2021). "Taliban names deputy ministers, double down on all-male cabinet". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 30 August, 2021.
  10. Evidence contradicts Taliban's claim to respect women's rights". The Guardian. 3 September 2021. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  11. Limaye and Thapar (8 September 2021). "Afghanistan: Women beaten for demanding their rights". BBC. Retrieved 30 September 2021.
  12. Al Jazeera (21 September 2021). "Taliban names deputy ministers, double down on all-male cabinet". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 30 September 2021.
  13. Abbassi, Fereshta. "Afghan Women Protest Against Taliban Restrictions". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 30 September 2021.
Written By: Shukria Sarwary, Student of LLM (International Law) Department of Post Graduate Studies and Research in Law
University of Mysore, Mysore, Karnataka - 570006

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