An Afghan woman weaves a carpet at a traditional carpet factory in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, March 6, 2023. After the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, women have been deprived of many of their basic rights. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Women in Afghanistan are currently living in a situation of institutionalized gender oppression, segregation, and impunity for gendered violence, a situation that has come to be known as “gender apartheid.” Since their takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban, an ethno-nationalist and religious fundamentalist movement, have engaged in a multi-level power game to strengthen their grip on the state of Afghanistan by restricting every aspect of women’s lives. As documented by the UN special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the country, Taliban authorities have introduced numerous edicts and instructions depriving women and girls of access to education, work, and civil and political life. Afghanistan has returned to the extreme curtailment of the rights of women and girls that existed before 2001.

In light of the devastating situation of women and girls in Afghanistan, it is important to reflect on the limitations of the past twenty years of efforts to implement the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda and how to renew its commitments in Afghanistan. There is an urgent need to pursue coherent policies to support women and girls in Afghanistan through diplomacy and practical measures. However, to do this, it is important to understand how to navigate the patriarchal practices that inhibit the protection of women’s rights in Afghanistan. This “patriarchal bargaining” requires identifying and harnessing entry points and incentives for change within existing power relations—among states, among national powerbrokers such as warlords, and within provinces and communities.

What Went Wrong in Afghanistan?

In the aftermath of 9/11 and the US decision to militarily intervene in Afghanistan, the US orchestrated the 2001 Bonn Agreement as a “grand bargain” that distributed power as a reward to Afghan warlords and political actors. This bargain created a centralized system with limited inclusion and outreach to support state-building from the bottom up. This set the scene for phases in which meaningful gender inclusion—both the presence of women as representatives of the majority of the population and commitments to address women’s needs and priorities—was continually undermined or traded off by key bargaining actors. Read more