Despite the Taliban’s recent promises to respect women’s rights, a look at the new interim government suggests that the group’s rule might very well mirror its previous regime when women all but disappeared from public life.
Women occupied just 6.5% of ministerial positions in Afghanistan before the Taliban took over the country, according to January 2021 data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an international organization of Geneva-based international organization of national parliaments.
Now, the country joins the ranks of only a dozen other countries where there are no women serving in high-ranking positions in government.
They are Azerbaijan, Armenia, Brunei, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Vietnam and Yemen, according to the most recent IPU data.
The absence of women in Afghanistan’s government bucks the global trend. Most countries have women in senior government positions, and the number of nations with women as heads of state or in government is at an all-time high, according to the IPU and UN Women.
It is also unclear what will happen to Afghanistan’s parliament, which effectively was dissolved in mid-August after the fall of Kabul.
Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, around 27% of the Afghan parliament was comprised of women, ranking it in line with the United States, where women make up 26.8% of all members of Congress according to the IPU.
The numbers marked an all-time high for the US, contributing to a growth in the global share of female lawmakers this year, according to the IPU and UN Women. The US government has made significant progress on gender balance this year, seeing an increase from 17 to 46% in the amount of women with ministerial positions.
Afghanistan’s share of women parliamentary members had hovered around 27% since 2005, when the first session of the elected body sat after three decades. Under the 2004 Constitution, at least 68 of the 250 total seats of parliament’s lower house are reserved for women, with two seats reserved for women for each of the country’s 34 provinces.
Afghanistan could also now join Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Yemen, where no women currently serve as members of parliament (in lower or single parliamentary chambers) according to the IPU. None of those countries ban women from office, however, which was the case the last time the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001. None of those countries has gender quotas for parliamentary seats.
Rwanda has long held the best record for female representation in parliament, with 56% of seats across two chambers currently held by women. Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates also top the charts, where women hold 50% or more positions as members of parliament.
But despite a rise in the number of women holding the highest levels of political power, widespread gender inequalities still persist, according to the data.
There are still only 22 countries that have women as the head of state or government.
Europe is home to the majority of those countries led by women, including Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Germany, Iceland and Norway.
Meanwhile, Nepal and Bangladesh are the only two countries in Asia with women leaders.
In neighboring China, there has never been a woman in the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CCP Central Committee, the highest power and decision-making body in the country, which is comprised of seven people. There is only one woman in the Political Bureau of the CCP Central Committee, a group that is made up of 25 people.
On Tuesday, UN Women Acting Executive Director Pramila Patten joined a chorus of international voices expressing their dismay at the absence of women in the interim Afghan government. “By excluding women from the machinery of government, the Taliban leadership has sent the wrong signal about their stated goal of building an inclusive, strong and prosperous society,” she said.
“Women’s political participation is a fundamental prerequisite for gender equality and genuine democracy,” she said, adding that “respect for women’s human rights is a litmus test against which any authority must be judged and that the establishment of a truly ‘inclusive’ Government with the participation of women is a central element of that.”