Women in Afghanistan facing numerous Taliban restrictions in 2022

Afghan women stand outside an amusement park, in Kabul, Nov. 10, 2022. The Taliban banned women from using gyms and parks in Afghanistan, part of their crackdown on women's rights and freedoms. [Courtesy of AP]

Throughout 2022, the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan introduced and enforced some of the worst gender-based discriminatory policies seen anywhere in the world.

At the start of the new academic year in March, the Taliban announced an indefinite ban on secondary schools for girls, depriving some 3.5 million teenagers an education. Earlier this week, it was announced that public and private universities across the country were being closed to female students until further notice. Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is the only country where girls are banned from schools because of their gender.

In April, the Taliban fired thousands of female government employees who were instructed to stay at home under the promise they would be paid their salaries. The Taliban stopped paying the salaries in April.

The same month, every woman without a male chaperone was prohibited from boarding planes at Kabul airport. Prior to this, the Taliban had banned women from long road travel without a male relative.

In May, the Taliban ordered every woman to wear a face mask when appearing on television, making Afghanistan the only country to enforce such a rule for public and private television channels.

The same month, human rights organizations warned about a sharp rise in child marriage cases, while an official of the Taliban's Islamic morality police told VOA that girls could be married when they reach puberty. Under the new rule, girls as young as 13 can be given in marriage to a man of any age.

Next, the Taliban ordered all women to cover their faces and bodies in public.

The social restrictions were followed by the exclusion of women from a grand assembly in Kabul in July, in which Taliban leaders sought domestic legitimacy from men-only representatives from across Afghanistan. A senior Taliban official said that in the national decision-making, women were represented by men.

Women 'erased'

The fall of the Afghan Republic in August 2021, ushering in the Taliban's return to power, marked the end of a constitutional system that guaranteed equal rights for all males and females in Afghanistan.

In the Taliban's so-called Islamic emirate, where citizens have no voting rights, women's rights are exclusively decided by male Taliban leaders who are only accountable to Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada. Akhundzada's word is law, and he has proclaimed himself accountable only to God.

On the one-year anniversary of the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan, the United Nations and human rights groups warned that the Islamist regime was systematically erasing women from the public sphere.

"Despite initial promises that women would be allowed to exercise their rights within Sharia law - including the right to work and to study - the Taliban has systematically excluded women and girls from public life," the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as U.N. Women, said in a statement on August 15.

In October, Taliban authorities restricted certain professional studies for new female university students. Under the new directive, female students were barred from selecting civil engineering, journalism, veterinary, agriculture and geology studies in the annual university entry exams.

In November, the Taliban issued an official ban on women's entry to parks, sport centers and even female-only public baths.

In December, Taliban officials publicly flogged a woman and several men for alleged morality crimes.

"We are erased," said Mahbooba Seraj, an Afghan human rights activist, told a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting. "Today, the human rights in Afghanistan does not exist. Women of Afghanistan do not exist for the Taliban."

Universal suffering

The drastic changes Afghanistan has seen over the past year seem to have disappointed an overwhelming majority of ordinary Afghans, according to a recent Gallup survey.

Nearly all Afghans, 98%, rated their living conditions as "suffering" under the new regime, and just 11% said they had hopes of better opportunities for the next generation.

"A record-low 22% of Afghans say women in their country are treated with respect and dignity - down from the previous low of 31% in 2021," Gallup said.

Throughout 2022, alongside international calls on de facto Taliban authorities to respect women's rights, some Afghan women's rights activists staged protests and processions in the capital, Kabul, demanding the right to work, education and political participation.

In response, Taliban security forces arrested, violently dispersed, and at times tortured women's rights activists, according to human rights groups.