Desperate to get recognition from the international community, Taliban supremo Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada issued a decree on Friday on women’s rights in Afghanistan. The decree was predictably in accordance with the Sharia laws now prevalent in the country.
The main points released today and being showcased as the Taliban’s version of women’s rights is largely to do with marriage and re-marriage. The Taliban seems to think that there is nothing more in a woman’s life beyond marriage. Yet this small concession is welcome in a society where girls are forced into marriage to end family disputes or as a token of friendship .
1. A women’s consent had to be taken before marriage “Adult women’s consentis necessary during Nikah/marriage. No one can force women to marry by coercion or pressure." And for good measure, the statement adds, "Woman is not a property, but a noble and free human being; no one can give her to anyone in exchange for peace deal and or to end animosity.’ Very often, especially in rural areas, women were married off to solve disputes between two families.’’
The other thing which is happening in Afghanistan facing a massive economic crunch is fathers selling young girls in marriage in order to feed the family. The lack of employment and the cut down in foreign aid is a devastating blow for women and children. Recently a nine-year-old Afghan girl was sold and married to a 55-year-old man as a second wife in rural Afghanistan. She was lucky as she was rescued by an American NGO "Too Young to Wed,’’ involved in preventing child marriage. But there are many more who are not as lucky.
2.A woman had the right to inherit the property of her dead husband. No one could deny her a share of her husband’s inheritance.
3. A widow cannot be forcibly married off to a member of the husband’s family or any other man without her consent.
4. In case of a second marriage of a widow, she had the right to ask for "Mehar" from her new husband. There have been several cases when widows were not given the traditional "Mehar."
5. In case of a man with more than one wife, it was incumbent on the husband to look after both in accordance with the sharia law. Both are to be treated with respect.
These instructions from Mullah Akhundzada were sent out also to the ministry of religious affairs, information and culture, the Supreme Court as well as provincial governors and senior officials to be implemented across Afghanistan. The decree has been given wide publicity so that the general people were all made aware of these instructions from the highest quarter.
While the diktat on marriage is being flagged by the Taliban publicity machine as its version of respecting women rights, there is a complete silence on education and right to choose whatever profession a woman wants. Last month the Taliban had banned women artists from being shown on television dramas, music videos, a staple of Afghanistan’s entertainment industry.
Violation of women’s rights has been of major concern in Afghanistan since the Taliban take-over. One of the first acts of the new government was to get women to observe purdah. During the 20-years of US and NATO presence urban women were allowed relative freedom. Wearing the hijab was a matter of choice and many young women discarded the headscarf. Women were active in politics, in television, digital platforms , newspaper and fashion and the entertainment industry, besides in politics and government service. But everything came to all when the Taliban came in on August 15.
The Taliban know that treatment of women is high on the list of the international community and this is its way to convince the world that Afghan women are well respected and given a free choice on marriage. This is hardly going to make much of a difference to the international communities views on Afghanistan. Ends