July 5, 2024

IntelBrief: Amidst the Third Round of Doha Talks, the Taliban Continues its Oppression of Afghan Women

AP Photo/Fareed Khan

Bottom Line Up Front

  • Since June, reports have indicated that the Taliban have been sexually abusing women accused of improper Islamic dressing or anti-Taliban activism, with women from the minority Tajik and Hazara ethnic groups particularly targeted.
  • Some reports indicate that cases of Afghan women being accused of not respecting proper Islamic dress have resulted in murder.
  • The third round of UN-sponsored talks between the Taliban and around 30 other countries on the integration of Afghanistan into the international community took place in Doha earlier this week, with Afghan women excluded from the meetings.
  • Despite an attempt to entice the Taliban to the table by discussing “politically neutral topics” – such as narcotics and counterterrorism – the exclusion of Afghan women from the Doha meetings risks legitimizing Afghanistan’s de-facto rulers with little room for leverage on women’s rights.

On July 3, The Guardian reported that the Taliban had apparently gang-raped a female Afghan human rights activist in a released video that horrifically details the assault. The Taliban sent the activist, who had fled abroad after the incident, the video as a threat to share it publicly if she continued her activism against the regime. This incident heightens concerns about gender apartheid in Afghanistan, with reports indicating that women from minority ethnic groups such as Tajiks and Hazaras are primarily targeted.

Additionally, there have been reintroductions of public stoning and flogging of women accused of adultery. In June, reports accused the Taliban of sexually abusing women and girls arrested for allegedly violating strict Islamic dress codes, just days before the third round of UN-sponsored talks between the Taliban and representatives from around 30 other countries in Doha. Zan Times, a women-led investigative newsroom focused on human rights violations in Afghanistan, indicated in January that women were already detained and lashed for “improper dressing,” with Hazara women disproportionately targeted and brutalized by the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan further corroborated this information.

Accounts of Afghan women being accused of not respecting proper Islamic dressing have ended fatally. One account speaks about the case of Marina Sadat, who was detained by the Taliban’s morality police in December in Kabul after being taken from the street on her way to university to follow midwifery classes, the only educational path available to Afghan women. Her body was later found inside a sack in a canal. People familiar with the case say she was sexually abused. The Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has denied any wrongdoing. The climate in Afghanistan for women and minorities since the takeover by the Taliban has steadily declined. In the first year after the Taliban takeover, there was a sharp increase in the number of women committing or attempting to commit suicide.

Despite these realities, Afghan women were excluded from the UN-sponsored talks in Doha earlier this week. Although the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, told the press that international envoys raised concerns about restrictions on women and girls in Afghanistan during the meetings, women’s rights were not a formal agenda item in the talks. DiCarlo reiterated that “Afghanistan cannot return to the international fold” if restrictions on women and girls continue and that engagement with the Taliban did not mean a recognition of their government. The UN envoy for Afghanistan, Roza Otunbayeva, also defended the failure to include Afghan women and civil society in the Doha meetings, insisting that the issue of women’s rights would be raised throughout talks.

Yet, human rights groups, activists, and many Afghan women criticized their exclusion at the talks as legitimizing the de-facto rulers of Afghanistan by sending signals that the international community was potentially willing to accommodate the Taliban’s demands – particularly related to sanctions and economic development. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation for human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, emphasized that if such exclusions were the price of the Taliban’s presence at the Doha meetings, “the cost is too high.”

Although no country officially recognizes the Taliban, the Taliban’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, stated on Sunday that the political understanding between the group and other countries is steadily improving – this despite the continued erasure of women and girls from public life. Mujahid stated that Kazakhstan had removed the Taliban from its list of proscribed groups, with Russia to follow suit potentially. He also stated that Saudi Arabia has expressed its intention to reopen its embassy in Kabul and expressed that “policy differences amid states are natural” and that diplomats can find ways of “interaction and understanding rather than confrontation.” Such statements reinforce that without significant pressure, particularly in crucial motivator issues such as development and sanctions, the Taliban seems unlikely to change course on its crackdown on women and policies that many experts have said amount to gender apartheid.