Taliban decree leaves unanswered questions on women’s rights, say Afghan experts

An Afghan woman wearing a burka exits a small shop in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, 5 December, 2021. Activist's said the Taiban's decree did not go far enough in addressing women's rights. AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

The Taliban took a step on Friday in restoring women’s rights after releasing a decree that bans forced marriage and states that women should not be considered as property. But many rights activists remain sceptical after it failed to mention whether women will regain easier access to education and work.

The announcement, attributed to Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhunzada, sets out more rights for women under Sharia law, in a move seen as an attempt to meet some of the international community’s concerns and restore financial flows.

“No one can force women to marry by coercion or pressure,” the decree, released by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, said. “A woman is not a property, but a noble and free human being; no one can give her to anyone in exchange for a peace deal or to end animosity.”

The decree also sets out rules governing widows, stating that they should be free to marry whomever they choose and that they should have a share in their late husband’s property.

Lailuma Nasiri, head of Afghanistan Justice Organisation (AJO), told Geneva Solutions that the rules issued by the Taliban, though important, were not new and already existed in Afghan law.

“These are legal issues that have already been explicitly addressed in the Afghan constitution and in the anti-violence against women law. They are also discussed in the Qur'an and other jurisprudential books.”

What’s still unclear, she added, is how they are going to be enforced across the country.

The decree also makes no mention of women’s rights to education and work – two areas of major concern for western powers. Since the takeover by the Taliban, education and jobs for women have been restricted, reversing years of hard-won gains.

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“The Taliban must restore all women's civil and social rights,” Wida Saghari, journalist and women's rights activist, told  Geneva Solutions.

“The decree of the Taliban leader states that not giving women's rights causes God's displeasure and his wrath against us. But he did not mention the rights to education and work, as well as the right of women to participate in politics and top management of the government, which is not fair,” she added.

Heather Barr, associate director of Human Right Watch’s women’s rights division, also reacted critically, tweeting: “Women’s rights are not just about marriage. What about education, employment, etc?”

She is sceptical about implementation of the decree. According to her, the Taliban does not protect the women who challenge men.

Thomas West, the United States special representative for Afghanistan welcomed the new move but also said it fell short on addressing other aspects of women’s rights.

“Much more is needed to ensure women’s rights in every aspect of Afghan society including schools, workplaces, politics and media,” he said.

The Taliban leadership said it has instructed the ministry of information and culture to publish articles on women's rights and called for proper implementation of the decree.

The group has also asked the supreme court and provincial governors to cooperate while the ministry of Hajj and religious affairs have also been urged to encourage the imams of mosques and religious scholars to campaign for the restoration of women's rights.

“It is worth considering why the Taliban issued such a decree at this time,” Nasari explained. “The Taliban leaders, on the one hand, want to be recognised by the international community and, on the other, fear from the reaction of their disciples and fighters so, they took a cautious step,” she said.

“By issuing the decree, they conveyed a message to the international community that they are working for women's rights. And at the same they indirectly said to their followers that they have discussed only on those topics which have already been confirmed in the Quran and Sharia.”