US President Joe Biden was in no hurry to address the issue of Afghanistan. And when he did, his speech was laughable. The US State Department pleaded that a terrorist group respect human rights, in particular the rights of women. For those with a penchant for dark, sardonic humour, America’s plea that the Taliban respect women’s rights should tick all your boxes.
In Afghanistan, women face a real threat. The past few days we’ve all been haunted by the rapid speed at which authentic progress for women can be undone. Afghan women have locked down, hiding from a virus of Islamic extremists. In a press conference, a Taliban spokesman promised that women will be treated “within the framework of Islamic law”. This should offer consolation to no one.
Under Sharia Law, women are not afforded the same rights as men. And under the Taliban’s particular interpretation and application of Sharia Law the outlook for women looks even bleaker.
When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan in the late nineties and the start of the 2000s, abuse and subjugation of women was the mainstay. Girls said goodbye to any hope of an education and hello to wearing the burka. Women were not allowed to work outside of the home and had to be chaperoned by a male relative when out and about – if out and about. There is little reason to think history will not repeat itself this time around.
So when it concerns the Taliban, it is no surprise that any imploration to respect women will fall on stony ground. The Taliban view women and girls as rewards, of a sexual nature, for men who follow the rules. And men flog women who break the rules. You could hardly describe the Taliban as reasonable folk open to persuasion from Uncle Joe and his soft diplomacy.
But when the US’ understanding of women’s rights has morphed into the ugly mess it is today, why should we expect anyone to listen?
For appeals to human rights to carry any weight, there must be consensus as to what those human rights are. Of course, we can all agree on the right to education and equal treatment before the law. But America’s obsession with inventing new rights, lacking any philosophical foundation and void of much consensus beyond that of the EU, threatens to do more harm than good. If countries like the US want to class the issue of a man wanting to use a woman’s bathroom as a human rights issue (for the man, not the woman, sadly), then any call to less woke actors abroad to respect human rights is weakened.
Particularly when addressing a non-Western audience, the US has undermined its authority when speaking about human rights, especially those concerning women, by trumpeting leftists’ denial of reality. The shift of human rights away from those universally agreed upon towards fringe woke concerns hurts the integrity of America’s human rights agenda overseas.
And this problem is not unique to the US. One need only to look at the Twitter feed of UN Women to realise how far some States’ understanding of rights and what it means to be a woman have strayed.
The Taliban is set on eradicating women from the public sphere, but plenty of Western actors seem willing to eradicate the word woman from all discourse. Abandoning trans ideology and strictly refocusing on the human rights outlined in the UN Charter would be a starting point for these players to regain their authoritative voice on human rights issues.
Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan, said that “Afghan girls and young women are once again where I have been – in despair over the thought that they might never be allowed to see a classroom or hold a book again”.
That is a women’s rights issue, and Malala’s words should unsettle all of us. Rightly, the depressing state of play in Kabul stokes anger at the issues that matter – access to education, equality before the law, not being stoned to death for your sexual orientation… the list goes on. There is no indignation at the Taliban not asking for preferred pronouns – and for a reason.
When fumbling over his teleprompter on Monday, it wouldn’t have surprised me if Biden had spluttered about the importance of defending the rights of creatures with a cervix, birthing people, or chestfeeding individuals. It is a blessing that Biden retained the acumen to refrain from touting the terminological doublespeak that infects the US and so many other States today.
If Biden and others are to implore the Taliban to respect women, then they shouldn’t hesitate to defend what it means to be a woman. Such efforts should start at home.