Activists on Hunger Strike as Taliban Oppresses Women

Is the U.S. doing enough to help Afghani women? Contact your reps to let them know what you think.

Updated Sept. 20, 2023, 2:20 p.m. PST

* A group of Afghan women's rights activists in Cologne, Germany, are in the second week of their hunger strike against the Taliban's policies of "gender apartheid."

* The women decided to launch the hunger strike due to international inaction when it came to the plight of Afghan women and girls.

* The Taliban continues to reduce women's participation in public life, preventing women from attending school and work and shutting down women's only parks.

* In a July report, the U.N. said the situation for women and girls in Afghanistan was the worst in the world. Sima Bahous, the executive director of U.N. Women, said that the Taliban:

"Has imposed the most comprehensive, systematic, and unparalleled assault on the rights of women and girls through more than 50 edicts, orders, and restrictions."

* Tamana Zaryab Paryani, one of the women on hunger strike, said:

"We want the ongoing gender apartheid in Afghanistan to be formally recognized as such."


What's the story?

* Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, restrictions on women's lives and rates of gender-based violence have been steadily increasing. Earlier this week, Taliban leadership refuted this, claiming that life is improving for women under their regime.

What the Taliban is saying

The Taliban's supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhunzada, says he has restored women's status as "free and dignified human beings" and is taking steps to provide women with a "comfortable and prosperous life according to Islamic Sharia." Akhunzada claimed that "all institutions have been obliged to help women in securing marriage, inheritance and other rights."

The announcement was made in advance of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. It came days after the U.N. declared that the treatment of women makes international recognition of the Taliban government "nearly impossible."

* John Sifton from Human Rights Watch said:

"Their claim that their policies in the past or in the future reflect a concern about the well-being of women is unsupported and, frankly, absurd."

* Within a week of the announcement, the Taliban banned women's beauty salons across Afghanistan and is demanding that they shut their doors.

What is the reality?

* In March of this year, the U.N. declared Afghanistan the most repressive country for women in the world. The organization has referred to the treatment of women under the Taliban as "gender apartheid."

* Since the 2021 takeover, Taliban authorities have prevented girls and women from attending high school and university, banned them from public spaces like parks, gyms, and public baths, and decreed that they wear a burqa when leaving home. Keeping women uneducated is central to the Taliban mission.

* The Taliban has prohibited women from working in NGOs or delivering aid to other women and fired virtually all female government workers.

* Women have reported being beaten on their breasts and being gang raped. Women are kidnapped and forced into marriage or sexual slavery.

* The "Vice and Virtue Police" have murdered women for improperly covering up or abiding by Sharia law, leaving their bodies by the roadside. Afghan Witness, a British nongovernmental organization, has found data on 140 incidents of women being "individually killed, often in circumstances of extreme violence and brutality."

* David Osborn from Afghan Witness said of the findings:

"From our analysis, the picture is clear: There is a culture of impunity for femicide in the Taliban's Afghanistan."

* Journalist Lynne O'Donnell, writing in Foreign Policy, said:

"For women who are isolated, brutalized, and desperate, Afghanistan has become that place where nobody can hear them scream."

* Heather Barr from Human Rights Watch said:

"From 2001 to 2021, I think they evolved in a way that made their abusive views on women and girls even more central to their cause. So it makes sense that they won't budge on those issues after that ideology arguably led them to victory."

* Human rights groups have pointed to the male-only religious schools, madrassas, as central to the propagation of the Taliban regime and social norms, where young boys are separated from their families and "brainwashed."

Is the U.S. doing enough to help Afghani women? Contact your reps to let them know what you think.

—Emma Kansiz