Taliban crackdown on Afghan women escalates while world looks away, report finds
- Afghanistan has seen a surge in gender-based violence, child brides and forced marriages since the Taliban takeover, Amnesty International found
- A shocking new report details how women arrested for a vaguely defined offence of ‘moral corruption’ are beaten, tortured and threatened into silence
She was threatened and beaten after being arrested this year for appearing in public without a male chaperon, known in Arabic as a mahram.
“They were calling me a prostitute [and] a b**** … The one holding the gun said: ‘I will kill you, and no one will be able to find your body’,” she told the rights group Amnesty International.
These harrowing details came from the group’s report titled “Death in Slow Motion: Women and Girls Under Taliban Rule”, which was released on Wednesday. It highlights in painstaking interviews the extent of abuse and restrictions that women and girls have faced in Afghanistan.
“This suffocating crackdown against Afghanistan’s female population is increasing day by day,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.
“The international community must urgently demand that the Taliban respect and protect the rights of women and girls,” she said, adding that every detail of their lives is now heavily controlled.
According to four whistle-blowers from Taliban-run detention centres, an increasing number of women and girls have been arrested and detained for minor violations, such as the rules related to mahram restrictions.
Apart from barring women from appearing in public without a male chaperon, some have also been punished for going to places with male friends or work colleagues. In general, only close male relatives are allowed to chaperone women.
“Sometimes they bring the boys and girls from the coffee shop … [Or] if they see a woman who is not with a mahram, she can be arrested,” a member of prison staff said. “Before these kinds of cases were not in the prison … The numbers are increasing each month.”
Those arrested are usually charged with “moral corruption”, the definition of which is ambiguous.
Whistle-blowers also said that many survivors of domestic violence are now in detention centres.
Despite the Taliban’s initial promises to uphold the rights of women and girls, systematic discrimination has only increased. The crackdown sparked a wave of protests, with the women who joined them being met with harassment, enforced disappearance as well as physical and psychological torture.
One protester who was arrested and detained for several days this year said she was beaten and threatened while being shown photos of her family.
“They started screaming at me … [One Taliban member] said: ‘You nasty woman … America is not giving us the money because of you bitches’,” she said. “Then he kicked me. It was so strong that my back was injured, and he kicked my chin too … I still feel the pain in my mouth. It hurts whenever I want to talk.”
Two women told Amnesty International that Taliban members had developed a new strategy to prevent them from sharing their injuries on social media.
“We were beaten on our breasts and between the legs. They did this to us so that we couldn’t show the world,” said one woman.
Many women were also forced to sign agreements that they and their family members would neither protest nor speak publicly about their experiences, the report said.
According to Amnesty International’s research, which was corroborated by other experts and activists, the rates of child, early and forced marriage in Afghanistan have also surged under Taliban rule.
“In Afghanistan, it’s a perfect storm for child marriage,” said Stephanie Sinclair, director of Too Young to Wed, an organisation focused on the issue.
“You have a patriarchal government, war, poverty, drought, girls out of school – with all of these factors combined … we knew child marriage was going to go through the roof.”
A 35-year-old woman from central Afghanistan said poverty had forced her to marry off her 13-year-old daughter to a 30-year-old neighbour last September. In exchange, she received 60,000 Afghanis (about US$660).
She has a 10-year-old daughter as well, but said she was delaying marrying her off for now.
“I wanted her to study more. She would be able to read and write, and speak English … I have a hope that this daughter will become something, and she will support the family,” the woman said. “Of course, if they don’t open the school, I will have to marry her off.”
New restrictions have limited women’s ability to work and study. The vast majority of secondary school girls are not allowed to attend classes, while at a university level, female students have faced harassment by the Taliban as well as restrictions on dress code, use of social media, and opportunities.
Many of the rules have been enforced not only by roaming Taliban patrols and at checkpoints, but also by neighbours and other community members.
Amnesty International, which is calling on the Taliban to lift its restrictions on women, interviewed a total of 90 Afghan women and 11 girls from September 2021 to June 2022 – some conducted on-the-ground and others remotely.
“Governments and international organisations, including all UN member states and the UN Security Council, must urgently develop and implement a robust and coordinated strategy that pressures the Taliban to bring about these changes,” the report said.
Women and girls who were interviewed urged the Taliban to improve the country’s living standards, instead of “closing every possible door for women”.
Many also feel frustrated about the international community’s inaction.
A woman who was detained after taking part in peaceful protests said: “I am tired of hearing that the world feels sorry for us … Don’t feel sorry, if you don’t want to offer any action.”