The US and Taliban are partners now: What about the Afghan women?

By Lima Halima-Ahmad

First published in Conflict Reader

The victimization of Afghan women, once useful for the US to justify its intervention in Afghanistan, seems to be irrelevant in the new romanticized relationship between the US and the Taliban. Since, the Taliban has announced that they will not attack the US and its coalition forces, but will continue their violent targeting of Afghans only. This new episode in the Afghan conflict seems to be acceptable by the current US Administration. 

Similarly, Afghan women’s rights, which were once at the core of the US strategic goals in Afghanistan, are now considered an intra-Afghan issue, which the US will not interfere with. This clearly shows that Afghan women were political tool that were once useful, but not anymore. 

For the US, Afghan Women were victims then
“[Afghan] women are not allowed to attend school” (The Washington Post, 2001). These were the words of George W. Bush to describe the Taliban’s barbarian regime. A year later, in his State of the Union Address, he reminded us, “the last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school. Today women are free.…” (Kolhatkar, 2002). It is undeniable that the victimization of Afghan women was at the core of the US and its allies’ intervention and later development strategies for Afghanistan. One may ask, are Afghan women victims that need to be saved by the world? 

Between 2014 and 2015 United Nations report shows that approximately 200,000 women were victims of domestic violence in Israel (Chelala, 2019). This year, 386 women were killed in feminicide in Mexico (Torres, 2020). 92% of Egyptian women and girls between 15 and 49 years of age have experienced Female Genital Mutilation (UN Women, 2020). The number of women killed in 2019 in Spain is already more than double the number recorded in 2018 (Blunt, 2019). Nearly 4.5 million women in the US reported being threatened with a gun by a partner (EveryTown, 2019). In India, there are 33,658 cases of rape, and crimes against women have increased sharply (Bajoria, 2019). UNICEF’s records show, globally, 720 million women were married before the age of 18 as of 2014 (Arthur, 2017). These are just a few of the statistics. Therefore, one may ask, are Afghan women victims, or is the entire world a horrible place for women to be?

The goal is not to disregard the violence and structural discrimination that Afghan women have been facing, but to highlight how the sufferings of Afghan women were used to justify the interests of intervention. Afghan women’s equal rights remain in the political speeches of local and international politicians. They are victims like any other woman in the world. The only difference is that women in Afghanistan have not overcome the cycle of being political spawns for the superpowers. It did not stop there; the international media showed that Afghan women only started to fight for equality in the years since the fall of the Taliban. Completely discrediting the struggles and resistance Afghan women never stopped during the forty years of war.

It is undeniable that the resilience and resistance of Afghan women during the four decades of war are not recognized, as they deserve to be. Afghan women were raped, looted, widowed, and killed during the civil war. Still, they grew resilient and never gave up hope. They were not just silent victims but continued their resistance. This is true for women such as Dr Urzala Ashraf, who established a school for Afghan refugee camps, Dr Sima Samar, who never gave up on the health issue of Afghan women in the hardest times. These are true for every unknown woman of Afghanistan, urban to rural. Who risked her life running schools and did not let the entire generation of Afghan girls to be illiterate. Their initiatives included businesses such as sewing, hairstyling, and many more. 

In 2001, when young girls who could work with the international community such as Adela Raz, the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN today, it is surprising no one wondered where did these young girls learn English language and computer skills. They learned all these during the Taliban era in the basements, in the refugee camps, or taught by their mothers in their homes. Even today, a female doctor in Helmand province, who cures the Taliban’s women, whose voice is not allowed to be heard by the Taliban (Doctor, 2020), continues this resistance. Therefore, the resilience of Afghan women in every dark era of the forty years of war, and their progress cannot only be credited to the international intervention after 2001.

While supporting Mujahedeen, the most conservatives of the society in the 1980s, who ultimately resulted in the Taliban’s total reversal of women and human rights advances, the US did not care about Afghan women’s rights and has hardly been accountable of what they did to Afghan women which caused a systematic sidelining of women from social and political spheres.

Does the Agency of Afghan Women Count?
Afghan women are reduced to an issue by the donor countries and the Afghan Government in their strategies, ignoring the fact that they are half of the population who has been robbed of their agency. It did not take long for the world to constraint Afghan women’s rights as imprisonment in “burqa”, limiting their agency to just the type of clothing they wear.

Furthermore, the US and the Afghan politicians have assumed that Afghan women’s rights should be the first to be sacrificed to buy a political deal. Why should women sacrifice their rights for peace? Why not Mujahidin who have killed, raped and looted thousands of their houses and dreams? Why not the Taliban, who once supported all terrorist groups and murders thousands? Nevertheless, “women who have nothing to do with all these forty years of war should again sacrifice. Not this time!” (Teacher, 2020)

The US and Taliban are Partners: What will happen to women?
The US-Taliban agreement mentions the US will work with all relevant sides to release Taliban’s combatants (The US-Taliban Agreement, 2020). Why do all relevant sides exclude Afghan women who will face structural violence by the dismantling of civil laws and human rights with the arrival of the Taliban to power? This agreement further adds that the Taliban will not pose any security threats to the US and its allies. What about threats posed to Afghan women of losing the right to education, to earn a living, to mobility, to security and decision-making in the public spheres of the country? Moreover, these are now internal affairs of Afghanistan that the US does not bother to interfere with.

Therefore, Afghan women are scared that their fathers, brothers, and husbands will become the Taliban’s law enforcement agents at homes. They fear every step of their future in the hands of these perpetrators of violence. 

Excluding Afghan Women from the Peace Process
Roughly 3.8 million women and girls are contributing to public spheres through National Police, the Afghan National Army, doctors, university professors, school teachers and students, civil servants, judges, businesswomen, ministers, and Ambassadors (AWN, 2019).  What are the numbers the Taliban could bring to the negotiation table? The total death toll in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2018 is 147,000, of which 38,480 are civilians (Crawford, 2018) and more than 600,000 widows (Bamik, 2018). However, the irony is that Afghan women are sidelined in the peace process, and partnership is extended to the Taliban.

Once again, Afghan women are expected to compromise their rights of active participation. The US-Taliban agreement states that the US will not interfere in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs (The US-Taliban Agreement, 2020). Is not forcing the Afghan government through coercive diplomacy by cutting aid to Afghanistan to release 5,000 Taliban’s prisoners, interference?

Afghan women fear that if the peace process fails, there is a possibility of a civil war, in which women will pay the highest cost. Afghan women are enduring similar brutality in the name of religion, culture and tradition as any other woman in the world. The difference is that international actors have politicized their wounds for political gains. So what does the US-Taliban deal make Afghan-women feel? Afghan women are scared, fearful of losing their dignity and the hard gain achievements of the last 19 years that was achieved with blood and toil of both the Afghan and international community.


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16. The United States-Taliban Agreement. (2020). State Department of the United States

Lima Halima-Ahmad is a Scholar at the International Security & Human Security, Fletcher School of Tufts University.

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