The Taliban marked the second anniversary of their takeover of Afghanistan on Tuesday, August 15, 2023, with a public holiday and celebrations across the country. The group seized power on August 15, 2021, as U.S. and NATO forces withdrew from the country after two decades of war.
However, the anniversary also highlighted the grim reality for millions of Afghan women and girls, who have been denied their basic rights and freedoms under the Taliban regime. The group has imposed a series of restrictions on women, such as banning them from most jobs, public life, and education beyond sixth grade.
The Taliban claims to respect women’s rights in accordance with Islamic law, but has not provided any clear or consistent guidelines on what that entails. The group has also faced international condemnation and isolation for its policies on women and human rights.
Interview with Taliban spokesman
In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, August 14, 2023, the Taliban’s chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the group views its rule of Afghanistan as open-ended and legitimate, drawing its authority from Islamic law. He said that the Taliban will stay in power for as long as God wants and that there is no significant threat to their regime.
He also indicated that there is no plan to lift the ban on female education, saying that he had nothing new to say on the matter. He brushed aside any questions about the rights and freedoms of women and girls, saying that the status quo will remain.
He said that the Taliban is doing its best to provide health care and other services to Afghans, but that the lack of international aid and recognition is hampering its efforts. He urged the world to engage with the Taliban and help rebuild the war-torn country.
Reaction from Afghan women
The interview sparked outrage and disappointment among Afghan women activists, who have been fighting for their rights and education for decades. They said that the Taliban’s ban on female education is a crime and a violation of human rights, and that it will have devastating consequences for the future of Afghanistan.
Mahbouba Seraj, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and former captain of the Afghan Girls’ Robotic Team, confronted Mujahid in a meeting in Kabul two weeks ago. She demanded him to reopen schools for girls and allow them to pursue their dreams. She said that denying education to girls will leave them more vulnerable to violence, poverty, and exploitation.
She also said that the world should not forget or abandon the girls and women of Afghanistan, who have made tremendous contributions to their society. She said that she hopes that next year, they will celebrate their freedom rather than mark their oppression.
Call for action from UN
The UN also expressed its concern and frustration over the Taliban’s decision to suspend female education. The UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown said that the situation in Afghanistan should count as a crime against humanity and be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.
He said that the international community must hear the voices of Afghan girls and women and mobilize in greater numbers and with renewed strength of purpose to condemn the violation of their rights. He said that the Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the rights of all Afghans, especially women and girls.
He also said that the UN fund Education Cannot Wait (ECW) has launched a campaign called #AfghanGirlsVoices to elevate the voices of young Afghan girls deprived of their basic right to education. The campaign features testimonies from Afghan girls whose lives have been upended by the ban on female education.