The Taliban in Herat, western Afghanistan, commit serious and widespread human rights violations against women and girls, said Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Institute at the University of Afghanistan. ‘State of San Jose (SJSU). Since taking control of the city on August 12, 2021, the Taliban have sowed fear among women and girls by searching for prominent women; deny women freedom of movement outside their homes; impose mandatory dress codes; severely restrict access to employment and education; and restrict the right to peaceful assembly.
Women in Herat told the two organizations that their lives were completely turned upside down the day the Taliban took control of the city. The women had been employed outside their homes or were students and played active and often leadership roles in their communities. They said that immediately after the Taliban arrived, they found themselves trapped inside, fearing to leave their home without a male family member or because of restrictions on clothing, access to education and employment that has fundamentally changed or has ended completely. They said they were facing economic anxieties due to the loss of income and their inability to work. They also faced distress and other mental health consequences as they envisioned an abrupt end to the dreams they had worked for for many years.
“For the women of Herat we interviewed, life as they knew it was gone overnight, and they were left hidden inside, waiting for fear to see if the Taliban would come and get them.” said Halima Kazem-Stojanovic, faculty member of SJSU Human Rights Institute and an academic on Afghanistan. âFor these women, the best of times is to be unharmed but forced to live a greatly reduced existence. The worst-case scenario is being arrested or attacked for their past accomplishments or for their fight to retain their hard-earned rights.
Human Rights Watch and the SJSU Human Rights Institute conducted in-depth telephone interviews in Dari with seven women in Herat, including activists, educators, and university students, about their experiences since the Taliban took control of the city. The women all spoke on condition of anonymity, out of fear for their safety.
The women of Herat were among the first to organize protests to defend women’s rights after the Taliban took control of Kabul and most of the country. Organizers and protesters said they were not participating in anti-Taliban protests or supporting the former government, but called on the Taliban to respect their rights: to live without fear of reprisal against themselves and their family members. ; be able to continue going to their work without needing a mahram (male family member as chaperone); and for girls above sixth grade to return to school.
Days after the Taliban took control of Herat, a group of women asked to meet with local Taliban leaders to discuss their rights, and several days later they were able to meet with a Taliban representative. However, the official was adamant: he told the women to stop insisting on their rights and that if they supported the Taliban, they would be rewarded with a full amnesty for their past activities and maybe even get positions in the new one. government.
Some women felt they had no choice but to protest and organized two protests. About 60 to 80 women attended the premiere on September 2, and the Taliban did not intervene. But the Taliban’s response to the second demonstration, on September 7, was violent and abusive. Taliban fighters whipped protesters and fired indiscriminately to disperse the crowd, killing two men and injuring at least eight others. The Taliban subsequently banned protests that had not obtained prior approval from the justice ministry in Kabul, ordering organizers to include information about the purpose of any protest and slogans to be used in any request made. to the ministry.
“Afghan women have the right to express their views on any issue, especially when their most basic rights – to study, to work and even to leave their homes – are threatened,” said Heather Barr, associate director of rights. women at Human Rights Watch. . âThe Taliban aggravate the abuses they commit against women by denying them the right to speak out as well.
Women interviewed said they were particularly concerned that the Taliban would re-enforce the policy of asking them to have a mahram with them whenever they left their homes, as the Taliban did when they were before. in power from 1996 to 2001. This demand barred women from most public life, cut them off from education, employment and social life, and made it difficult to access health care . It also made them completely dependent on male family members, preventing them from escaping if they were abused at home.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in an interview in Kabul on September 7 that being accompanied by a mahram would only be required for trips longer than three days, and not for daily activities such as work, school, errands, medical appointments and other needs. But Taliban officials in Herat have not been consistent in implementing this policy. Some of the women interviewed said that Taliban fighters arrested them in the streets, universities and other public places, and forbade them to go about their business unless they were accompanied by a mahram.
“The experience of women in Herat raises serious concerns about the extent to which Taliban leaders in Kabul are able or willing to control the human rights actions of their members across the country, including women’s rights. âKazem-Stojanovic said. âTaliban leaders should ensure that their rights statements are respected in practice in all provinces of Afghanistan. Claims by Taliban leaders to respect women’s rights will be meaningless if women and girls are to live in constant fear of being mistreated by the Taliban on their streets.