Like much of the Taliban’s repressive rule, the brutalization of Afghan women’s lives continues apace. Since the ouster of the Taliban, women are still subject to a wide range of restrictions, from being banned from formal education to being routinely denied access to health care facilities. From appearing in public without an all-encompassing burqa — to the steadfast insistence that women must cover their hair or be stoned to death for passing their “bad” ideas to their young daughters — it’s tough to imagine a time when Afghan women enjoyed more latitude in both living and working life.
To be sure, U.S. policy still relies heavily on the advancement of women and girls. But today’s announcement from the Taliban lays out a clear and explicit strategy for women’s oppression. Based on the Koran and covered up by anti-Semitic code, the new media guidelines state that women cannot be shown on TV, radios, films or anywhere else that “will make them look less ‘clean’ and as a lesser human being.” In other words, they must look perfectly neat and neat like everyone else.
Recruitment is especially aggressive among the female Taliban cadres who now fear the consequences of violating the new rules. “They will not have a life if they contradict these,” claimed one woman to a western reporter.
The security situation in Afghanistan remains harsh. Insurgents still mount regular attacks on civilians, large-scale attacks and even suicide bombings. Yet both the Afghan and coalition forces are rapidly winning, and gains are being established across the country.
Like it or not, that is probably one of the causes of the growing need for women’s rights. It is also, I suspect, one of the main motivations behind the growing obsession among U.S. officials to talk up the Afghan government’s recent positive “progress” in women’s rights.
While politicians bemoan the Taliban’s new TV ban, the situation remains dire. Despite a decade of vicious blows that have been “hard,” women are still disjointed and impoverished. All the while, women in their courts are prosecuted for what the Taliban calls any minor offense, be it for breaking laws prohibiting menstruation, for being pregnant (a legal pregnancy) or for other offenses like dance.
Women are impassable obstacles to progress; they’re young and poor, and will never be well-equipped to cope with the challenges of modern life. The plan therefore is to send them to Europe, North America and Canada, as seen in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent statement that he sees no other option. That might work if the Taliban were defeated and women able to live as they choose. But given the insurgent’s abysmal record of misogynist oppression, the Taliban are in no position to wipe its hands of this blatant form of violence. Their lives will be physically and financially ruined by increased schooling and unemployment. And the prospects for their daughters to pursue career options in the health care system — something that has not been the case since 2001 — are grim.
While women will no doubt need a clear, steady plan of action, it must not be driven by a Western narrative of women’s liberation. Because victory in this war should not be seen as the first step on a woman’s march towards liberated beauty.
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