If there is one demographic that has suffered the most brutal oppression since the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan last year, it is women, with indignity and injustice heaped upon them, time after time. Soon after the chaotic American exit and the shock collapse of Kabul in September 2021, women were pushed out of government and public policy roles, and forced to retreat behind veils and curtains, inside homes, away from society. Even as the Taliban leadership mouthed misleading rhetoric about compromise and modernity, it barred many women and girls from secondary schools. On Tuesday, the administration banned female students from universities in Afghanistan, overriding screams of condemnation by local activists and international organisations.
Far too often, concerns that affect women are relegated to the backbenches of global diplomacy and questions of strategic, political, military and economic importance are deemed more urgent. Even when gender finds a place in negotiations, it is often a hollow slogan —-remember the lofty pledges about emancipation by the United States that were abandoned at the altar of political and strategic expediency when the time came for troops to leave Afghanistan. But for a regime bent on denying women a life of dignity and equality, only crushing international pressure can move the needle. The Taliban must realise, or be made to realise, that persecuting women or forcing them out of public life and cloistering them in homes is unacceptable in any modern society. The global community is already engaging in limited ways with the Taliban. It must draw a new red line on gender rights.
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