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Violence against women rampant under Taliban, new report finds

An Afghan woman with a child begs for alms on a roadside in Kabul on July 27. (EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Women in Afghanistan have faced an onslaught of violence and human rights abuses since the Taliban’s return to national power less than a year ago — and the “scope, magnitude and severity” of violations are “increasing month to month,” according to a new report by Amnesty International.

Shortly after sweeping into Kabul in August 2021, the Taliban offered assurances that it would respect the rights of women, in a society that saw drastic changes in the decades since the Taliban had last held power. But journalists and activists swiftly called that narrative into question and began to amass evidence of a different reality.

The 98-page report was released Wednesday and relies on interviews with more than 100 women, girls, staff members at detention centers, experts and journalists, collected by researchers abroad and on the ground over nine months. The report reveals the extent to which the Taliban has limited the freedoms of women and girls by imposing harsh, arbitrary, punishments — from forcibly detaining women for appearing in public without a male chaperone, to physical and psychological torture in confinement.

Taliban morality police tighten their grip on Afghan women

The rights group documented accounts indicating a dramatic increase in child marriages and marital rape since the Taliban’s takeover. In some cases, the report says, the Taliban told survivors of domestic violence they would be sent to shelters, but imprisoned them instead.

Former detainees said imprisonment carries a lifelong stigma because women are so often subjected to sexual violence in jail. According to the report, one former activist said that when she was arrested, her only thought was about the stigma she would face.

“Once you go to the prison, it’s a big deal,” she said. “You have no dignity afterward because everyone will say you were raped.”

The Taliban’s “draconian policies are depriving millions of women and girls of their right to lead safe, free and fulfilling lives,” Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said in the report.

Upon seizing the capital, the Taliban were quick to shutter schools for girls. Although they were meant to reopen in March, the Taliban’s Ministry of Education issued a last-minute reversal that banned girls beyond the sixth grade from returning. Images and videos of young women and girls crying outside their schools circulated on social media and local television.

“Taken together, these policies form a system of repression that discriminates against women and girls in almost every aspect of their lives,” Callamard said. “Every daily detail — whether they go to school, if and how they work, if and how they leave the house — is controlled and heavily restricted.”

Since taking de facto authority, the Taliban has imprisoned dozens of women’s rights activists, restricted access to education for women and girls and barred women from going to work because of their potential proximity to men.

Amnesty International interviewed witnesses in Afghanistan who said that women who peacefully protested the discrimination were met with harassment and beaten — in apparent violation of international law, the group alleges.

Taliban struggles to respond to earthquake amid international isolation

Afghanistan is enduring a humanitarian crisis compounded by the Taliban’s return to national power, which drove hunger as countries cut back on aid. Last month, an earthquake struck in the country’s east, leaving 1,000 people dead and many more displaced.

The United States attempted to unfreeze funds to support quake victims but bypassing the Taliban proved to be a logistical challenge.

The Amnesty International report calls on the Taliban to implement major policy changes that roll back infringements on the basic rights of women and girls and also urges governments and international organizations, including all United Nations member states, to address these issues with more urgency.

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