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07. October 2021 - News

Afghanistan: 20 years after the war started – Taliban threatening women again

Press Statement, Cologne, 07.10.2021. Violence, fear and ostracism (return) in the everyday life of women and girls in Afghanistan. Two months after the withdrawal of the international troops, medica mondiale is calling for the German government to finally live up to its political responsibility and bring especially vulnerable women’s rights activists to safety in Germany.

Menschen demonstrieren für Frauenrechte in Afghanistan

On October 7, 2001, the war in Afghanistan began as a reaction to the terror attacks of 9/11. Today, 20 years later and almost two months after the withdrawal of international troops, the Taliban have almost completely forced women and girls out of public life in the country. Protests have been beaten down and women’s rights activists report receiving threats by phone.

International community prioritises military security instead of peace

“The military intervention in Afghanistan was legitimised and instrumentalised using the issue of protection for human rights, and especially women’s rights. However, the focus of the international community was actually always on military security instead of peace processes within society,” says Monika Hauser, founder and Chair of the Board of medica mondiale, reviewing the past 20 years. “This is one of the reasons why resistance to the important work of women’s rights activists persisted in both the public and government.”

Threat to the achievements of women’s rights defenders

In spite of difficult conditions, many achievements were made by women’s rights activists in Afghanistan. For example, staff of the Afghan partner organisation medica mondiale set up counselling points for women affected by violence, pursued court cases leading to the conviction of perpetrators, and lobbied successfully at the political level for laws making violence against women a punishable offence.

“Our Afghan colleagues were able to help women to take their own independent path in life and encourage them to assert their rights. The German government supported their efforts. But now their lives are being threatened for this courageous work,” says Ms Hauser.

Women and girls face systematic discrimination and forced withdrawal from public life

It is not even two months since the last international troops left Afghanistan, but women and girls have already been pressured out of public life by the Taliban. Contrary to their assurances of respecting the rights of women, the Taliban have shown that their misogynistic attitudes have not changed. There is not one single woman in the new Afghan government. The women’s ministry has been de facto abolished. The Taliban have challenged the right to education for women and girls, with girls no longer attending secondary schools and women being practically excluded from universities, since they are not allowed to attend classes together with men.

A climate of fear: Women’s rights activists need protection

The Taliban has violently suppressed protests from women and women’s rights activists against the restrictions. In this way, a climate of fear is being created that dissuades women and girls, especially activists, from raising their voice and asserting their rights.

medica mondiale criticises the unconditional withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan. “The German government reacted far too late and too slowly to the advances of the Taliban. A review of this needs to be conducted at governmental level,” demands Ms Hauser. “However, now our attention and all efforts of German authorities need to focus on finding a rapid and non-bureaucratic way to bring women’s rights activists and other vulnerable people to safety in Germany.” During negotiations with the Taliban, the German government needs to couple any political or economic agreement to the upholding of human and women’s rights. This includes the protection of human rights defenders, especially women’s rights activists.

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