Afghanistan and the rights of women and girls

The global reaction to the situation in Afghanistan must be concerted, united, firm and centred on the rights of women and girls, making sure we move forwards and not backwards

This is the focus of the latest statement by UN Women which declares that this United Nations entity is “fully committed to support women and girls in Afghanistan”, adding that “women’s and girls’ rights in Afghanistan must have only one direction and that is forward”. The statement highlights the “pivotal role” of women and girls in the development of Afghanistan throughout history and underlines the need for their “hard-won rights” to be protected.

Grave concern

Expressing its “grave concern” at the current situation, UN Women calls on Afghanistan to guarantee fundamental human rights for all citizens, and for the authorities to fulfil their obligations “to protect civilians and to provide humanitarians with unimpeded access to deliver timely and life-saving services and aid”.

“Women’s and girls’ rights must be at the core of the global response to the current crisis”, ends the statement.


The authorities in power, whether this be through an election or by taking power in a vacuum, which is the case in Afghanistan, or whether these authorities be an invading force, have a common responsibility to provide services for and serve the citizens living under their control.

Not the time to apportion blame

Today, the situation is what it is and this is not the time to point fingers and apportion blame. The Taliban are in control of Afghanistan but with this control comes responsibility and the obligation to perform a role providing governance. This is the twenty-first century, 2021 for many people, 1443 for Moslems, it is not the sixth century or the Early Middle Ages when Christians were behaving like the Taliban of the 1990s, when the Taliban of the 1990s were behaving like the barbarians of western Europe a thousand years before.

In today’s world there are common human values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has nothing to do with race, colour or creed. It is a milestone which sets out basic and fundamental values for all to enjoy and for all to follow. 

If the Taliban wish to be treated and respected as a part of the modern international community and not as a bunch of extremist savages, a pariah movement which is an outrage to any accepted norms of decency and civilization, then the Taliban have to behave accordingly.

The Taliban might be in power in Afghanistan but that does not mean they are not being watched by the entire international community, it also means that there are international mechanisms (unfortunately not as strong as they might be because some nations continuously flout international law and breach UN Charters or else launch invasions outside the auspices of the UNSC) and while the Taliban might think they can live with impunity, they are nevertheless accountable and sooner or later will be brought to justice.

This is the year 2021, or 1443. Universal rights exist. Women and girls have the right to dress as they like, act as they choose, walk freely in the streets, study at any time to any level of education and nobody has the right to take this away from anyone, no religion or creed states anywhere that this should not be the case.

A question of choice, not imposition

Islam, like any other religion, is open to interpretation in its teachings. Women in Islam had far more rights than most women living in Christendom and many people, including many Jews, fled to the East because they enjoyed better human rights under the Ottomans for instance than under Christian rulers. Under the Qu´ran, men and women have equal moral agency on Earth and have the same status, or rewards, in the afterlife. The sunnah (teachings or example) of Mohammed show that both men and women have equal rights to seek knowledge.

Who are the Taliban to change the message of the Qu´ran and to go against the teachings of Mohammed?

Conclusion: The Taliban are Afghans, living in their country among their own people. While one understands that they do not want foreigners ruling over them, something that nobody has ever managed to do, it is also true that in today’s world there exist universal values and people are free to choose how they live. If the Taliban wish to follow Sharia law and live under its impositions, Islam is a noble religion, a religion of peace and respect and charity. If a woman chooses to reveal herself only to her husband at home and wear a burqah outside, that is her choice. If she chooses to submit to her husband’s will and not study, also. I have known western women living in western Europe who were beaten by their husbands for studying. But if a woman chooses to go outside without a burqah and to get a University education, this is not today a question of religion, it is a fundamental and basic human birthright.

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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey