In 1977, the UN invited member states to recognize March 8 as a day to celebrate women’s rights and world peace. International Woman’s Day is widely celebrated in countries around the world, including Afghanistan. It is observed as an official public holiday in 27 countries. Unfortunately, there is little to celebrate for women in Afghanistan today.
Over the last twenty years, Afghan women have not only progressed in their rights and opportunities, they have helped rebuild their country. Women have served in all sectors of society as politicians, civil servants, business leaders, activists, artists, musicians, police, and military officers. Political participation of women was considered a success story of Afghan women’s advocacy for their rights. Women held key positions such as ministers, deputy ministers, and provincial and district governors in the previous government. Twenty-seven percent of the Afghan parliament and 21 percent of civil servants were women. Forty-eight percent of Afghan girls were enrolled in school and 43 percent of girls older than 15 were literate (compared to only 30 percent of boys)
The new Taliban regime erased women from many of these places overnight. Today thousands of educated women are confined to their houses and many felt forced to flee. Taliban have banned women’s free movement without a male minder. Middle and high schools remain shut for girls. Universities have reopened for women. However heavy Hijab restrictions are imposed. Women’s employment is restricted by the Taliban. More frighteningly, raids and abductions of women’s rights defenders have escalated dramatically. Alia Azizi, a member of the ethnic Hazara community and the head of the women’s prison in Herat has been missing since October. Women’s rights defender Frozan Safi was found shot dead two weeks after she disappeared. Negar, a pregnant policewoman, was brutally killed by the Taliban in front of her family. These are only a handful of casualties in the Taliban’s war on women, with more no doubt to come.
Despite these terrifying circumstances, Afghan women refuse to surrender. Across Afghanistan they continue to stage public protests with the simple slogan “Food, Work, Freedom.” In their homes they are using social media to engage with the international community about the Taliban’s abuses. And in secret they are starting schools to ensure the education of girls continues.
Afghan women continue to stand up for their rights not only in an increasingly hostile environment but also as a humanitarian crisis quickly escalates. Despite their tenacity, these brave women cannot solve these problems on their own. They need help in their fight to protect the lives and rights of Afghans. The international community, including the U.S. and its allies, should support these women and do all they can to ensure that the raids against woman human rights defenders end. The international community must pressure the Taliban to unconditionally reopen all girls’ schools, grant women the right to work, and repeal all laws that discriminate the rights of women. They must take steps to make sure woman continue to have a voice in rebuilding Afghanistan and are granted their rights to equal social and political participation. The international community should ensure that the Taliban are held accountable for Afghanistan’s human rights obligations. The best way for the international community to mark International Women’s Day is to stand in solidarity with Afghanistan’s women and their demands for their basic rights.