Taliban says women are not property and must consent to marriage

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Pressured internationally to ensure equal rights for Afghans, the Taliban published a decree on Friday (3) in which it says that women should not be considered property and should only marry if they consent to marriage. Access to education and work is not mentioned in the text.

The document, shared by one of the group’s spokespersons on social networks, states, among other points, that no one can force women to marry by coercion; that widows cannot be forcibly married and that they are entitled to their husband’s inheritance; and that, in polygamous marriages, all wives should have the same rights.

The decree does not provide for punishments for those who fail to comply with what was established, but asks that governors and tribal leaders collaborate to put the new rules into practice. It also says that the Afghan Supreme Court must issue instructions for all courts to hear complaints related to women’s rights.

The absence of women’s rights was listed as one of the main barriers to the release of Afghan funds frozen abroad, as well as recurrent human rights violations. When the Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic group, regained power in August after the withdrawal of Western troops, the US froze about 9.5 billion dollars (£53.5 billion) from the Central Bank of Afghanistan.

The country’s insertion in international organizations, such as the United Nations, is also hampered by the absence of women’s rights. The Taliban named a representative to the UN in September, but member countries of the organization are reluctant to accept the group.

The secretary-general of the United Nations, the Portuguese António Guterres, repeatedly places respect for women’s rights as one of the conditions for the international recognition of the Taliban. “Afghan girls and women are witnessing the rapid reversal of rights achieved in recent decades, including the right to attend a classroom,” Guterres said in an October statement.

When it was in power for the first time —from 1996 to 2001—, the group banned women from studying and leaving home without the presence of a male relative. Upon regaining power two decades later, he made promises of moderation that were viewed with skepticism.

Even though they have, for example, allowed them to study —as long as they are separated from men—, the Taliban have banned them from playing sports and acting in television dramas. Journalists were also required to wear the hijab, an Islamic veil that covers their hair and neck.

Reports of bans on women working also multiply, and four activists were found gunned down in the north of the country in November.

The deprivation of women’s right to work has also been identified as an economic problem that the fundamentalist group will have to deal with. The female workforce constitutes about 20% of the jobs, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), so that women are essential to alleviate the economic catastrophe that is advancing in the country.

Also according to UNDP calculations, without female employment, the Afghan GDP (gross domestic product) would fall from 3% to 5%, a loss equivalent to the amount of 1 billion dollars. The figure represents a lot for a country that had in international aid, now blocked, around 40% of its income. “The damage will depend on the magnitude of the limitations imposed [às mulheres]”, says the United Nations program in a recent report.

The plight of the Afghan economy, shaken by war, drought aggravated by the climate emergency and the withdrawal of international aid, is described as “an unprecedented fiscal shock” by the UNDP. International agencies project that 23 million Afghans — more than half the country’s population — are threatened by famine this winter.

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