When the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021 in a lightning takeover following the withdrawal of US troops, the radical Islamist group appeared keen to distance itself from its earlier period of rule in the 1990s, presenting itself as more moderate and committed to the internal peace process.
Among its new commitments, the Taliban pledged to honor women’s rights within the norms of “Islamic law.”
The group’s spokesman Suhail Shaheen said at the time that women would be allowed to continue their education up to university – a break from the strict restrictions under the Taliban regime that ruled between 1996 and 2001.
The promises of a softer approach were met with skepticism, both within the country and abroad. Over a million Afghans have reportedly fled since the Taliban retook power.
Sixteen months on, the Taliban appear to have reneged on their word. Women and girls are facing blanket bans on education after a series of decrees steadily eroded their rights in almost all aspects of life and upended the gains they had fought tirelessly for over the past two decades.
Just days after retaking power, the Taliban reinstated the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice as a public morality watchdog tasked with enforcing the Taliban’s version of Islamic law. The ministry has since been central to the systematic chipping away of women’s rights in the country.
Here are some of the ways women’s rights have been eroded:
The Taliban announced on September 12, 2021, that women could attend universities with gender-segregated classrooms while wearing compulsory hijabs. But in March 2022, the government barred girls from attending secondary school. Girls’ secondary schools were set to resume on March 23, 2021, after months-long closures imposed after the Taliban takeover. The group ordered them shut just hours after they were due to reopen. The move devastated many students and their families, who described to CNN their dashed dreams of becoming doctors, teachers or engineers.
In its latest step in the clampdown on women’s education, the Taliban on Tuesday suspended university education for all female students. A letter published by the education ministry said the decision was made in a cabinet meeting and the order would go into effect immediately.