Documents to download

Since the Taliban captured Kabul in August 2021, the rights of Afghan women and girls have been increasingly restricted.

Speaking in March 2023, a group of UN experts, including Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, said “20 years of progress for women and girls” had been “erased” under Taliban rule.

This debate briefing summarises the restrictions against women and girls, and the international response.

Restrictions against women and girls

Since August 2021, the Taliban have issued several orders and decrees restricting the rights of women and girls. These include:

  • September 2021: Female civil servants prevented from returning to their jobs (with some exceptions in the health and education sectors)
  • September 2021: Suspension of secondary education for girls
  • December 2021: Requirement for women to be accompanied by a male relative for travel of around 70km or more from their home (known as mahram)
  • May 2022: Requirement for women to wear certain forms of hijab
  • December 2022: Ban on women from attending universities
  • December 2022: Ban on women from working for national and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In April 2023, this was extended to UN partners.

UNESCO estimate that around 80% of school-aged Afghan girls and women, totalling 2.5 million, are now out of school. The ban on university education also affects 100,000 women. Primary education has remained largely open to girls, and in some provinces to Taliban’s ban on secondary education has not been applied.

The International Labour Organization estimates that female employment was 25% lower at the end of 2022 compared to pre-August 2021 levels. It estimates this caused a 5% reduction in Afghan Gross Domestic Product (around US$1 billion) by mid-2022.

The Commons Library Insight, Afghanistan: Ban on female aid workers and future of UK aid, 18 May 2023, provides more on the Taliban ban on women working for NGOs. It’s been reported that talks are currently ongoing on agreement for women to resume work.

There have been some reported protests against these changes within Afghanistan. In both December 2022 and March 2023 women gathered to protest the Taliban’s ban on education. There are also reports that the Taliban itself is divided, with some members supportive of girls being allowed to attend secondary school.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report several female protesters have been tortured and subject to mistreatment by the Taliban when detained.

International response

Condemnation by the UN and others

In April 2023, the UN Security Council, chaired by the United Arab Emirates, unanimously passed a resolution expressing “deep concern” at the “increasing erosion of respect for the human rights and fundamental freedom of women and girls” in Afghanistan by the Taliban.

The Council condemned the current Taliban ban on Afghan women working for the UN, called for a reversal of restrictions on access to education, employment, and freedom of movement, and for a continued UN presence in Afghanistan and dialogue with the Taliban.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has also criticised Taliban restrictions on girls’ education and condemned the ban on female aid workers. In May, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, said the UN would not disengage from Afghanistan and would continue to raise the rights of women and girls.

The UK co-chairs the Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan. In October, this called for the Taliban to reverse its polices. In addition to statements at the UN, the UK Government has also said it would work with Muslim-country partners to support Afghan women and lobby the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, on its restrictions.  

The international community has limited leverage

The UN and international community currently have limited leverage over the Taliban.

The UK Government has acknowledged that its ability to support those in Afghanistan is “limited” and that it would be “realistic” about the level of UK aid to the country that can effectively be distributed, given the ban on Afghan women working for NGOs (they have represented up to 40% of staff).

In January 2023, International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell opposed making UK aid conditional on the Taliban removing its restrictions, arguing the Taliban was unlikely to be affected and conditionality would harm those the UK is seeking to help.

Analysis by the US Institute for Peace suggests that the international community could consider steps such as tying recognition of the Taliban as Afghanistan’s government to its policies for women and girls, providing support to organisations focused on the rights of women and girls, and exploiting divisions with the Taliban to develop carve-outs from the restrictions.

The US Institute for Peace has also produced analysis on recent dissent within the Taliban.

International Crisis Group has also argued that aid donors should focus on achieving long-term change in the country and continue to fund humanitarian appeals to avoid the country’s humanitarian situation deteriorating further.

The UN aid appeal is underfunded, and needs are high

Currently, the UN’s US$4.6 billion appeal for Afghanistan is just under 8% funded.

The UN Development Programme estimates that a 30% fall in aid to Afghanistan could lead to a drop of income per person of around 40% compared to 2020 (US$306 compared to US$512), in a country where 85% of the population lives below the 2020 poverty line.

In 2022, the World Food Programme estimated that 96% of female-headed households were struggling to find enough to eat, compared to 89% of male-headed households.

Since April 2021, the UK Government has provided £532 million in aid to Afghanistan and committed that at least 50% of its beneficiaries would be women and girls.

UK aid is expected to fall in both 2022/23 and 2023/24: The Commons Library Insight, Afghanistan: Ban on female aid workers and future of UK aid, 18 May 2023, has more.

Documents to download

Related posts