The Taliban have issued a decree banning forced marriages in Afghanistan, saying women should not be considered “property” and should agree to marriage, but questions remain as to whether the group that returned to power in mid-August rights around work and education will expand.
The decree was announced on Friday by the withdrawn Taliban chief, Hibatullah Akhunzada – who is believed to be in the southern city of Kandahar. “Both (women and men) must be equal,” the decree said, adding that “no one can force women to marry by coercion or pressure”.
The decree did not mention a minimum age for marriage, which was previously set at 16 years.
The group also said a widow would now be allowed to remarry 17 weeks after her husband’s death and freely choose her new husband.
Long-standing tribal traditions held it customary for a widow to marry one of her husband’s brothers or relatives in the event of his death.
The Taliban leadership says it has ordered Afghan courts to treat women fairly, especially widows seeking inheritance as next of kin. The group, which came to power in August, also said it had asked government ministers to spread awareness about women’s rights among the population.
The development was seen by two prominent Afghan women as an important step forward, but questions remained as to whether the group’s women’s rights around work and education would expand.
“It’s big, it’s big … if it’s done the way it’s supposed to be, it’s the first time they’re come up with a decree like this,” said Mahbouba Seraj, executive director of Afghan Women ‘s Skills Development Center addressed. Friday from Kabul at a Reuters Next conference panel.
The international community, which has frozen billions of dollars in funds for Afghanistan, has made women’s and human rights a key element of any future engagement with Afghanistan.
Seraj said even before the Taliban took over the country on August 15, Afghan politicians struggled to formulate such a clear policy on women’s rights around marriage.
“What we need to do now as the women of this country is that we need to make sure that it really happens and is implemented,” Seraj said.
Roya Rahmani, the former ambassador to Afghanistan in the United States, reflected her optimism, adding that it was probably in part an attempt to dispel international fears regarding the group’s achievement record on women’s rights, as the Taliban administration seeks to to get funding released.
“A wonderful thing if it is implemented,” Rahmani told the Reuters Next panel, adding details such as who will ensure girls’ consent is not forced by family members will be key.
“This is a very smart move on the part of the Taliban at this stage, because one of the (pieces of) news that attracts the West’s attention is the fact that girls are being sold as property to others to the rest of the family. nourish. , “she said.
During its previous rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban banned women from leaving the house without a male family member and full face and head covering and girls to receive education, forcing men to grow beards and playing music.
The Taliban say they have changed, but many women, lawyers and officials remain skeptical.
The group has promised freedom of expression, women’s rights and amnesty to officials who worked under the previous government of President Ashraf Ghani. But journalists have faced restrictions and reports have surfaced of Taliban fighters involved in revenge killings of former officials. A large number of secondary schools for girls are still not in operation, although the Taliban said they are working to open them.
The US has frozen nearly $ 10 billion in Afghan central bank reserves and international financial institutions have suspended development funding for the country, plunging the heavily aid-dependent economy into a crisis and warning economists and aid groups of a humanitarian disaster.
Seraj said the Taliban should now go further, asking that the group release more rules to explain women’s rights to access public spaces.
“What I’m really waiting to hear next from the same group, from the same person, is that he is sending the decree on education and the right to work for the women of Afghanistan, it will be absolutely phenomenal,” she said.
Freedom of speech
Ahmad Sarmast, the founder and director of Afghanistan National Institute of Music, also spoke at the panel, warning that the Taliban showed little sign of change when it comes to allowing the arts and freedom of expression.
While facilitating hundreds of students and their families to flee the country and escape to Portugal, the Taliban closed its institute and other music and arts faculties in the country.
Although the group did not release their policy on music, he said he was in contact with many Afghan musicians who hid their instruments and lived in fear.
“There is no official decree banning music or music education, but the practice is here,” he said. “Music has disappeared from the air of Afghanistan.”