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Taliban Continues Clampdown on Afghan Women’s Rights
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Taliban Continues Clampdown on Afghan Women’s Rights

'Imagine how frustrating it would be for a bird with no wings who wants to fly.'

Happy Thursday! Days after old lyrics the rapper Drake wrote as a teenager were found in a dumpster outside a Memphis furniture store, an auction house is attempting to sell the loose-leaf pieces of paper for at least $20,000.

Just imagine how much an early 2019 draft of The Morning Dispatch would fetch …

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Due to a reported explosion of new infections in recent weeks, the Centers for Disease Control announced Wednesday that starting January 5, the United States will require all travelers from China, Hong Kong, or Macau over the age of two to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test from within 48 hours of their departure. The CDC said China’s “lack of adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data” rendered the move necessary.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that, after lobbying from the U.S. dairy industry, imported baby formula will once again be subject to tariffs in 2023. Congress voted over the summer to temporarily suspend the tariffs—which can reach as high as 17.5 percent—in an effort to boost supply amid nationwide shortages, which are expected to continue into next year.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Tuesday it had banned imports from three companies that, according to an agency investigation, use North Korean labor in their supply chains. The 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act prohibits the importation of goods produced by North Korean nationals, unless “clear and convincing evidence” exists proving the goods were not made with “convict labor, forced labor, or indentured labor under penal sanctions.”

New Taliban Restrictions Leave Afghan Women ‘Buried Alive

A female university student walks in front of a university in Kandahar Province on December 21, 2022. (Photo by STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images.)

Hasti, a third-year political studies student in Afghanistan, was preparing for a final exam last week when she heard that the Taliban had shut universities to female students. She spent the evening crying instead of studying, and armed Taliban guards turned away young women at the campus gate in Kabul when they arrived to sit exams.

“It is very hard for me, because right now I have to stop my studying and my goals are not achievable,” Hasti told Reuters. “Women and girls are being buried alive.”

When the Taliban overran Afghanistan last year on the heels of the United States’ withdrawal, leaders of the militant Islamist group promised women would retain rights—including access to education—they had gained over the previous decades of rule by Afghanistan’s internationally recognized government. The Biden administration expressed cautious optimism they’d keep their word. “The Taliban has made their own commitments,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in August 2021 when asked about the possibility of the Taliban reverting to their old ways. “They’ve made them publicly. They’ve made them privately. And again, I think they have a very strong self-interest in acting with a modicum of responsibility going forward.”

That appears to have been a miscalculation, as Afghanistan’s de facto government has spent the 16 months since the United States’ withdrawal slowly choking off women’s freedom and imposing restrictions—and public corporal punishment—familiar to those who remember the group’s previous rule. Days after closing universities to women, the Taliban told aid groups in the area to pull their female employees in the field or lose authorization to work in the country, prompting several groups to pause operations altogether despite Afghanistan’s worsening economic and hunger crisis.

“The world must reject, as Afghans have, that this is about culture or religion,” Rina Amiri, U.S. special envoy for Afghan women and girls, wrote after the university ban. “In no Muslim-majority country, in no place in the world, are girls denied an education.” She added that the restriction “removes any doubt” that the Taliban is “reverting” to the gender-based repression implemented during its reign in the 1990s.

But the intervening two decades gave Afghan women a taste of freedom, and many don’t want to go back. Female students mounting a street protest in the western city of Herat faced water cannons, and at eastern Nangarhar University some male medical students walked out of their exams in solidarity. A few male professors have resigned in protest. Even some Taliban officials—such as the deputy foreign minister—have voiced support for female education as recently as September.

But the university closings were only the latest in a string of returning restrictions. The Taliban had already banned girls from secondary schools in March, limited what degrees they could begin pursuing in college, and required them to use separate entrances and split classrooms to avoid male students. Women and girls have been banned from public places like parks and gyms, barred from most types of work, and must once again cover their faces in public and travel with a male guardian. The religious affairs ministry on Saturday prohibited “adult girls” from attending certain religious classes in Kabul mosques, though the rule didn’t specify an age cutoff or why it only applies to women in Kabul.

Some restrictions have served as the pretext for implementing others: The Taliban’s higher education minister cited reports of female students breaking dress rules and traveling without male escort as justification for the university ban, and the Ministry of Economy offered a similar rationale for the ban on female aid workers. “Lately there have been serious complaints regarding not observing the Islamic hijab and other Islamic Emirate’s laws and regulations,” the Ministry of Economy said in a letter to licensed NGOs. It’s not immediately clear whether the ban applies only to Afghan women or all female aid workers in the country.

Without female employees, restrictions on mixed gender interactions will make it difficult to deliver aid to Afghan women, several aid groups argued. “If we are not allowed to employ women, we are not able to deliver to those in need,” the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a Sunday statement announcing suspension of its Afghanistan operations. Afghanaid, Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council, CARE International, and several other groups have also curtailed their operations in Afghanistan in response to the Taliban’s move. The World Health Organization estimates some 18.1 million Afghans need treatment for afflictions like measles, and nearly 19 million of the country’s 40 million people face acute food insecurity. Ramiz Alakbarov, the United Nations’ Afghanistan humanitarian coordinator, is holding out hope the Taliban health ministry will walk back some restrictions on certain female aid workers to ensure women can still access healthcare.

With unemployment among Afghan adults already above 80 percent, firing female aid workers will only deepen the country’s economic crisis. The Red Cross noted that a third of the more than 10,000 Afghanistan health care workers whose salaries it pays are women, and the IRC said more than 3,000 of its 8,000 Afghanistan employees are women.

International leaders swiftly condemned the latest restrictions. “Women are central to humanitarian operations around the world,” Blinken wrote Saturday. “This decision could be devastating for the Afghan people.” The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday unanimously decried the female aid worker ban, and Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other Muslim-majority countries have voiced disapproval over the higher education restrictions. The U.S. placed visa limits on current and former Taliban members in October in response to their treatment of women, and Blinken promised further unspecified multilateral “costs” if the university ban isn’t reversed.

But the Taliban has hardly proved receptive to previous criticism, and this time looks no different. “Those organizations operative in Afghanistan are obliged to comply with the laws and regulations of our country,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted Sunday, warning U.S. officials against interfering in “internal issues” of Afghanistan. “We do not permit anyone to state irresponsible words or make threats about the decisions or officials of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan under the title of humanitarian aid.”

That argument hasn’t convinced students who are suddenly blocked from school. “The Taliban has come and taken away our human rights, both the right to education and the right to freedom,” second-year law student Najiba told Radio Free Europe. “Imagine how frustrating it would be for a bird with no wings who wants to fly.”

Worth Your Time

  • How could a major U.S. airline possibly cancel 75 percent of its scheduled flights in a given day? Alison Sider explains Southwest’s week from Hell in her latest for the Wall Street Journal. “When Southwest Airlines reassigns crews after flight disruptions, it typically relies on a system called SkySolver. This Christmas, SkySolver not only didn’t solve much, it also helped create the worst industry meltdown in recent memory,” she writes. “Crews and planes were out of place. Phone lines jammed up, and Southwest pilots and flight attendants trying to get assignments couldn’t get through to the scheduling department. Some shared screenshots on social media that showed hold times of eight hours or more—which meant they could wait a full workday for instructions while flights were stuck for the lack of a crew. The airline was scrambling just to figure out where its crew members were located, union leaders said. ‘There just was not enough time in the day for them to work through the manual solutions,’ Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson said in an interview.”
  • Will 2023 be the year Americans beat their political addictions? Matt Welch is hopeful. “Already, we are seeing some preliminary indications of a turn away from political obsession,” he writes for Reason. “The media companies that fattened on anti-Trumpism are being starved of subscribers and shedding staff. Birth rates, having fallen steadily for 15 years, are experiencing a post-COVID ‘baby bump.’ Those who do politics for a living—journalists, consultants, hucksters—are letting the desperation show, trying to elevate possible Trump successor Ron DeSantis into a Nazi enabler or Joe Biden into an election-canceling commie. Returns are observably diminishing on doom-scrolling the news, arguing digitally with strangers, and mashing the ‘donate’ button to some person or group who shares and stokes your political hatreds. The effective methods for improving our personal, familial, and even societal dissatisfactions lie right there at our fingertips, or better yet, shoes—going out for a walk, participating in community institutions, getting the kids off of smartphones, reading an actual book, traveling to places we haven’t seen before.”
  • In his year-end newsletter, Gurwinder Bhogal sums up the 10 best ideas he encountered in 2022. From Solomon’s Paradox—“we’re better at solving other people’s problems than our own, because detachment yields objectivity”—to Cunningham’s Law—“the best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question, but to post the wrong answer, because people are more interested in criticizing others than helping them”—he works through a number of hypotheses and postulates that have shaped his thinking and writing. Our personal favorite? Noise Bottlenecks: “Consuming online content makes us feel like we’re learning, but 90 percent of the content is useless junk—small talk, clickbait, marketing—which crowds out actual info from our minds. As such, we feel we’re getting smarter as we get stupider.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • Jonah’s latest G-File (🔒) is ostensibly about Donald Trump, but it’s really about humanity. “The real sources of happiness come from different forms of identity,” he posits. “I think the lack of these different kinds of identity is a great source of unhappiness. If your only source of identity is who you are at work, or school, or on Saturday nights with your friends, you’ll eventually discover that’s not enough.”
  • From Mike Lindell v. Ron DeSantis to Marjorie Taylor Greene v. Lauren Boebert, the pre-2024 right-wing infighting has begun, Nick notes in Wednesday’s edition of Boiling Frogs (🔒). “The 2024 primary will split MAGA Republicans into camps of ‘traitors,’ who have turned on Trump to support DeSantis, and ‘losers,’ who insist on sticking with Trump despite his dismal election record,” he writes. “One camp (or both) will lose. They will not easily get over it. And the winning camp won’t easily get over the losing camp not getting over it.”
  • On the site today, Kevin Williamson writes about the wild saga of Rep.-elect George Santos, whose dizzying heap of past lies keeps getting taller as more and more details of his supposed biography come under scrutiny. “Kicking George Santos out of Congress is a job for the people of Long Island, one that they can do for themselves if they should happen to discover some particle of communal self-respect,” he writes. “But there are things that Republicans in Congress could and should do to set an example here: They could and should refuse to give him committee assignments; they could and should vote to censure him; they could and should expel him from the Republican Party.”

Let Us Know

Should international aid organizations pull out of Afghanistan entirely to protest the Taliban’s latest moves? Or should they continue doing as much as they can given the immense needs of the Afghan people?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.