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The women of Afghanistan are suffering – but not forgotten 

Afghan women chant slogans to protest against the ban on university education for women, in Kabul on December 22, 2022. A small group of Afghan women staged a defiant protest in Kabul against a Taliban order banning them from universities, an activist said, adding that some were arrested. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

Tonight, as elected officials and their guests gather in Washington to hear the State of the Union, women across Afghanistan are suffering under the brutal Taliban regime.   

Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan following the United States’ withdrawal in August 2021, they have issued more than 30 edicts aimed at severely limiting women’s freedoms. The Taliban have all but banned women from public life, decreeing they cannot go to public parks or gyms, requiring them to cover their faces while in public, and establishing a rule where women must be escorted by male chaperone, also known as a “mahram.”  

In some cases, those who have disobeyed these harsh new laws have been flogged, whipped, or even stoned. Afghan women who have protested these draconian restrictions have been detained and even tortured,  

And on Dec. 20 last year, the Taliban officially banned women and girls from formal education above the 6th grade. This devastating turn of events makes Afghanistan the only country in the world where it is illegal for females to attend secondary school or university.  

The move was a calculated effort by the Taliban to ensure women remain second class citizens for generations. As in every country around the world, without an education, women in Afghanistan face limited opportunity for employment. Those still employed today face horrific obstacles in their effort to work. Many women were fired due to pressure from the Taliban. Others are unable to travel to their work location without a male chaperone, while some have simply quit out of fear for their safety. 

Shortly after their decree to limit education for women, the Taliban struck another devastating blow to women and children in Afghanistan. They banned women from working for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the organizations responsible for delivering food, health care, and other vital humanitarian assistance to Afghans. Since the announcement, most humanitarian operations have been suspended, with several organizations forced to completely shut down. And while some humanitarian assistance is still making its way into the country, Afghan women are less able to access it because they are unable to interact with male providers.   

This move also severely impacted the health care industry, with many facilities and health care organizations closing due to the lack of needed female employees. In addition, the Taliban has banned male health care workers from serving women, meaning very few Afghan women are even able to receive medical assistance.  

The situation in the country is dire. While access to humanitarian aid and health care is shrinking, starvation skyrockets. Afghanistan faces the highest levels of starvation in the world, with half the population categorized as facing “crisis” or “emergency” level food insecurity. Once again, it is women and children who stand to suffer the most, as USAID notes that 70 percent or more of all Afghan beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance are women and women are twice as likely as men are to share provided meals with their families.  

Tonight, as President Biden addresses the joint session of Congress to deliver the State of the Union, we hope he will highlight the plight of the Afghan women and girls. We hope he will reiterate his promise to hold the Taliban accountable for their inhumane treatment of Afghan women and girls. 

It is clear the administration’s initial strategy of engaging with the Taliban in an effort to encourage “moderation” or “pragmatism” has been unsuccessful. So, we also hope President Biden will announce substantive actions in tonight’s State of the Union that will do far more to address this atrocious situation. We must show the world this horrific oppression will not be tolerated. 

Michael McCaul represents Texas’s 10th District and currently serves as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Roya Rahamani, who will be Chairman McCaul’s guest at tonight’s State of the Union, served as Afghanistan’s first woman Ambassador to the United States.  

Tags Biden Food insecurity Taliban Women's rights in Afghanistan

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