At this point, there is only so much the West can do to help Afghanistan’s women.
Yet they need as much help as they can get. After two decades in the wilderness, the Taliban claimed after seizing Kabul that women would be allowed to study, work and “be very active in our society.” All lies.
Last month, about 100 young Afghan women who earned scholarships from an Emirati billionaire to attend the University of Dubai were blocked from leaving the country as they tried to board a charter plane. With daily humiliations big and small, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan continues to be a disaster for the women left behind. The Taliban regime forces half the population to live in prisonlike conditions, a waste of human potential.
With U.S. troops offering protection, 3.6 million girls were enrolled in primary and secondary schools and about 90,000 received higher education. Now, women are flogged by men for such crimes as “escaping from home.”
An Aug. 30 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom says the majority of the 100 religious edicts issued by the de facto government since August 2021 directly enforce severe restrictions on women and girls. Millions are also starving. The International Rescue Committee says women and girls account for almost 80 percent of the Afghans in need of humanitarian assistance.
“Child marriage and attendant maternal mortality have increased,” according to an Aug. 17 Human Rights Watch report, “and gender-based violence, particularly in the home, continues to skyrocket.”
In July, the Taliban ordered the closure of every beauty salon in Afghanistan. With gyms, parks and classrooms no longer accessible, salons were among the final sanctuaries. Visiting beauticians offered a rare taste of freedom. When some women protested, security forces dispersed them with fire hoses.
With the regime determined to stamp out any ember of joy for women, it’s no surprise there’s a suicide epidemic. Afghanistan has become one of the few countries in the world where more women than men die by suicide. The Guardian told a heartbreaking story on Aug. 28 about an 18-year-old who tried to take her own life after her dreams of becoming a doctor were dashed and her family sold her into a forced marriage with a cousin who is addicted to heroin. According to the Guardian, “Some see suicide as the only remaining form of defiance possible.”
Anyone who advocated withdrawal from Afghanistan, including both President Donald Trump and President Biden, deserves a share of the blame for these foreseeable consequences. Because of the U.S. government’s decision to abandon Afghanistan to extremists, Washington has limited leverage to undo the Taliban’s edicts. The U.S. government can refuse to recognize the Taliban so long as Afghanistan’s rulers commit such wide-scale human rights abuses. The State Department can designate Afghanistan as a country of particular concern. Congress can make it easier for Afghans in the United States on humanitarian parole to apply for permanent legal status after undergoing appropriate vetting.
Afghanistan is a party to, and clearly in violation of, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, as well as the convention on the rights of the child. The convention is difficult to enforce, but the U.S. government should declare that the Taliban’s treatment of women constitutes an ongoing crime.
The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said in a June report that the Taliban might be responsible for “gender apartheid.” This term should stick. Notably, South Africa’s representative to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council urged the international community to treat gender apartheid “much like it did in support of South Africa’s struggle against racial apartheid.”
The United States might have surrendered most of its leverage. But that does not mean the United States should fail to use all it has left.