Thomas West, the US special representative for Afghanistan, welcomed the Taliban‘s supreme leader’s decree requiring a woman’s consent to marriage. “At the same time, much more is needed to ensure women’s rights in every aspect of Afghan society, including schools, workplaces, politics and media,” he said in a tweet on Saturday.
The decree does not mention female access to education or to work outside the home.
The US and its allies remain concerned that the Taliban have significantly reduced women’s rights since regaining power. Street protests demanding human rights have been violently suppressed. Most girls and women from grade seven on up have not been allowed to attend school, and most women outside the health sector have been barred from going to work.
On Friday, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s supreme leader, issued a decree stating that women should not be considered “property” and must consent before marriage “Both [women and men] should be equal,” it reads.
“No one can force women to marry by coercion or pressure,” the decree continues. “No one can force women to marry by coercion or pressure.”
Widows have the right to choose their future after the Sharaie Adat period (four months and 10 nights after their husband’s death or pregnancy), according to the decree. A widow also has the “right to heritage and fixed share in the property of her husband, children, father, and relatives.”
Women are not property “but a noble and free human being; no one can give her to anyone in exchange for [a] peace deal and or to end animosity,” the decree states.
Under Afghan tribal traditions, it is customary for a widow to marry one of her husband’s brothers or other relatives in the event of his death. Girls are given forcibly in marriage as compensation for murder, adultery, abduction and kidnapping committed by the men of the family.
In the tribal culture of Afghanistan and Pakistan, forced marriage of girls has been going on for centuries. Often, instead of paying “blood money” to settle a blood feud, an accused family gives their girl in marriage to an aggrieved family.
Zabiullah Mujahid, the deputy minister of information and the chief spokesperson for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, told The Media Line, “The decree protects the rights of widows who did not receive their rights after the death of their husbands.
“As per Shariah [Islamic religious law], after the death of the husband, the widow cannot be forced into marriage and she has the right to marry and decide her own future,” he said.
“We have never denied stopping girls from studying and working, but, keeping Shariah’s parameters in view, work is underway to formulate a coherent policy in this regard,” Mujahid continued.
“In the light of Shariah, we are absolutely in favor of women’s rights,” he said. “All the ministers and officials have been directed to spread awareness about women’s rights among the people across the country.
“We assure the world that women’s rights will be protected and honored by all means in Afghanistan,” Mujahid said.
Muhammad Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban government’s ambassador-designate to the UN, told The Media Line, “We are entirely committed to exercising women’s rights under the golden principles of Islam and we are fully aware of our responsibilities in this regard.”
“The recent decree on women’s rights is part of a series of initiatives taken by our government to rehabilitate a country ravaged by a long war,” he said.
Prof. Adrian Calamel, an expert on the Middle East and terrorism at the State University of New York’s Finger Lakes Community College, said Afghanistan is in dire straits and that “the Taliban are putting forth this moderation/charm offensive to secure international aid and a place at the United Nations.
“What they [the Taliban] say and do are completely different. The West listens but cannot see that their actions are contradictory to their words,” he told The Media Line. “The West has its head in the sand.
The Taliban have only kept two promises, and in this, they have never wavered, Calamel said. First, that they would take back Afghanistan. And second, that they would not hand over al-Qaida members.
“I know people on the ground being hunted in Afghanistan and there is no [Western media] coverage. For months I have been trying to get people out; it’s next to impossible now,” he continued.
“The Western governments and press corps have acted shamefully and they still think there is a moderate side to the Taliban,” Calamel said.
Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based national security analyst and human rights lawyer, told The Media Line, “After years of political presence in Doha, [Qatar, where its negotiators were based], the Taliban have learned a great deal about what type of political discourse and messaging succeeds with the Western audiences.
“The US government, the Pentagon and other Western countries are quite aware of the Taliban’s ideological proclivities and position on women’s rights,” she said. “The supreme guide’s decree does not align with the reality on the ground, which is that women are being denied the opportunity for education and jobs, and are being increasingly erased from the public sphere.
“To the extent women are allowed some level of separate education, it consists mostly of religious indoctrination and offers them no opportunity to improve their lives,” Tsukerman emphasized.
“However, the Taliban want to continue receiving humanitarian aid from the US and its Western allies. Furthermore, they face a major stumbling block to governance and legitimacy in light of the funds frozen by the US,” she added.
“The latest statement is part of a game designed to provide support to Western governments to justify their political choices without losing face in front of their own constituencies,” Tsukerman said.
Kamal Alam, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a senior adviser to the Massoud Foundation, told The Media Line, “The European countries and the United States, despite their general abhorrence of the Taliban and what they stand for, have come to the realization that there is only one option to help the Afghan people, and that is to do business with the Taliban.
“Even as early as September, US officials have said that the Taliban are very professional and business-like with regard to the evacuation [of US troops] and humanitarian aid,” he said.
“Recently the head of the World Food Program, David Beasley, made a very productive trip [to Afghanistan], which unlocked even more cooperation with the Taliban on a coordinated aid effort, even to areas that were previously no-go areas,” he continued.
“While Beasley shows the way on how to engage with the Taliban without fully giving up all the leverage, this seems the best bet for now falling short of overall recognition in Western capitals,” Alam said.
Hina Gul, an Afghan expatriate and women’s rights advocate based in Peshawar, Pakistan, told The Media Line, “Regrettably, we are living in a society where social and ethical values are sidestepped.”
“In a male-dominated, conservative and hard-line society, a female’s life in Afghanistan is really disgraceful. Thinking about basic women’s rights becomes necessary where breaking the writ of law is easy but evading traditional norms and values is a difficult job,” she said.
“Currently, the Taliban have established a new narrative related to women’s rights and education, and frequently applied ‘Islamic’ frames to avoid setting out their policies in tangible terms. Now that they are in power, their claims will be put to the test,” she added.
As for the new decree, Gul said, “Seemingly this decision of the Taliban is a good step, but there is no clear policy of the Taliban on how it will be implemented.”