Taliban outlaws contraception in latest women’s rights crackdown
- Sources say Taliban operatives forced pharmacies to stop selling contraceptives
- Contraceptives can also be bought privately, but at a higher price – and with a great deal of risk
The Taliban have begun enforcing blanket bans on all forms of contraception in two of Afghanistan’s two largest cities.
Pharmacies and doctors in the capital Kabul and the fourth largest city Mazar-e-Sharif confirmed to the women-run Afghan newspaper Rukhshana Media that Taliban officials have ordered them not to sell contraceptives.
Sources living in several cities told Rukhshana that the Taliban have stopped importing contraceptives, and while they can still be bought clandestinely from private sellers, their price has skyrocketed as a result.
Afghanistan’s health ministry has not released a statement on the matter, but a source told The Guardian that they were briefed by Taliban enforcers in Kabul that “contraceptives and family planning are a Western agenda.”
“The midwife I always visit said the Taliban told them not to inject contraceptives because it was haram (forbidden),” one woman told Rukhshana. “When she said it was haram, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. When I bought pills from outside instead, the price had doubled.”
When the Taliban took power in August 2021 amid the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the fundamentalist group claimed there would be no return to the tough policies of their predecessors, who ruled from 1996 to 2001.
But in the months that followed, women’s rights were gradually rolled back as the latest generation of Taliban hardliners tightened restrictions.
In December, the Taliban banned university education for women nationwide when the country’s Minister of Higher Education, Neda Mohammad Nadeem, issued a letter to all public and private universities, instructing them to refuse admission to female students.
“You are all informed to implement the above-mentioned order to suspend the training of women until further notice,” it said.
The order came less than three months after thousands of women and girls across the country took university entrance exams, at a time when the Taliban said they would allow women to get an education provided they studied in separate classrooms and covered up under the strict guidelines of the Sharia Interpretation Group.
Women were only allowed to be taught by female professors or old men.
However, women were quickly banned from attending courses at Kabul University as an “Islamic environment” had not yet been created.
And young girls were also barred from returning to secondary school, severely limiting admission to universities.
While Afghan women had fought for and won basic rights for the past 20 years, millions were now forced to stay at home and abandon their ambitions.
Many teenage girls were married off at an early age – often to much older men of their father’s choice.
Women have been ousted from many government jobs – or paid reduced wages to stay at home.
They are also not allowed to travel without a male relative and must cover themselves outside the home, ideally with a burqa.
Madina, a journalism student who only wanted her first name published, struggled to understand the weight of the orders banning women and girls from universities and secondary schools.
She said: “I have nothing to say. Not only me but all my friends have no words to express our feelings.
“Everyone is pondering the unknown future that lies ahead. They buried our dreams.”
The country is returning to the “dark days”, added medical student Rhea in the capital, who asked for her name to be changed.
In the 20 years between the previous Taliban rule and the current one, girls were allowed to go to school and women were able to find jobs in all sectors, although the country remained socially conservative.
Authorities have also returned to public floggings and executions of men and women in recent weeks.
An economic crisis in Afghanistan has only deepened since the Taliban returned to power after the hasty withdrawal of US-led foreign forces in August 2021.
Washington froze Afghanistan’s $7 billion in assets in the United States, while the billions of dollars in foreign aid that helped prop up the country has plummeted.