The Current

Expert urges skepticism over Taliban's promises to respect women's rights in Afghanistan

A spokesperson for the Taliban has promised to respect women's rights within the norms of Islamic law, but Martine Van Biljert, co-founder of Afghanistan Analysts Network, says that remains to be seen. 

'A lot of Afghans and Afghan women don't trust it at all, and I can't blame them,' says Martine Van Biljert

Schoolgirls sit at the schoolyard in Herat, Afghanistan, on Aug. 17, 2021, following the Taliban's stunning takeover of the country. (Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images)

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As Taliban control continues to strengthen its grip on Afghanistan, women and girls there are worried about what comes after all this. 

A spokesperson for the Taliban has promised to respect women's rights within the norms of Islamic law, but Martine Van Biljert, co-founder of Afghanistan Analysts Network, says that remains to be seen. 

"We should take a step back, but we should look very, very critically," said Van Biljert. "Obviously a lot of Afghans and Afghan women don't trust it at all, and I can't blame them."

"They're very keen to show a face that knows what it's doing, that's going to be good for the people," Van Biljert told The Current's guest host Anthony Germain.

Afghanistan Analysts Network is an independent non-profit policy research organization that uses research to help inform policies, and help people understand what's going on in Afghanistan. 

Van Biljert, who is in the Netherlands but has lived under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, said the Taliban has so far done things that never would've happened in the 1990s. She said the Taliban has promised it will allow girls can go to primary school. In some places they're discussing allowing women to pursue post secondary education.

But she says there's good reason why people may not trust that the Taliban is looking out for women's rights.

Progress lost

Zahra, a journalist living in a safehouse, told the CBC on Wednesday that she worries the rights that women have won over the last 20 years of struggle will be lost.

Now, she fears for her own safety as the Taliban reasserts its rule over the country.

"I don't really feel it's the reality and I don't feel comfortable going outside," she said. "I feel myself at very serious risk. I feel as though life is going to stop at any moment."

Zahra isn't her real name. CBC has agreed to withhold her real name because of safety concerns. 

She's hearing the same from other women who are working in the country. She doesn't believe she is going to be able to work as long as the Taliban controls Afghanistan. 

"Never, never, ever going to happen," she said. "I can't believe, I never believe it."

U.S. Air Force officials load passengers aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Aug. 24. (Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/U.S. Air Force/Handout/Reuters)

Zahra has applied to come to Canada as a refugee, but Canada's acting chief of the defence staff said Thursday morning that efforts to airlift people fleeing Afghanistan has come to an end.

"The government of Canada recognizes that there are a number of people in Afghanistan, including Canadian citizens, permanent residents, their families, and applicants under programs for Afghans," said a notice sent by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Zahra says she's worried about her daughter as well as herself.

"If I stay here, if we are not going out with any sort of support, I feel she will be having the even worse situation than me," she said.

Afghan security forces stand along a roadside next to a pickup vehicle in Bazarak town of Panjshir province on Aug. 17. (Sahel Arman/AFP via Getty Images)

Martine Van Biljert has heard stories like Zhara's. She understands that it's very complicated situation in Afghanistan, but she says foreign governments still need to pay attention to what's happening in the country. 

"It's important that the international community at least engages with the Taliban so that it keeps open the possibility of having leverage," said Van Biljert. 

"It's really this delicate balance of not stepping away, but also not being fooled too easily." 


Written by Philip Drost. Produced by Kaity Brady and Samira Mohyeddin.

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