The Taliban’s rapid conquest of Afghanistan has left women and girls there vulnerable to the regime as stories of rape and forced marriages of girls as young as 15 are already emerging.
Human rights groups and lawmakers in both parties are pleading with the Biden administration to fight for the rights of women as the Taliban takes control of the country.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday offered sympathy to Afghan women but declined to discuss how the administration could protect them.
“Truly, deeply, my heart goes out to Afghan women and girls in the country today, under the Taliban. We’ve seen what they’ve done before and that’s a very hard thing for any of us to face,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters.
He added that President Biden will continue to fight on behalf of women and girls in Afghanistan. But when pressed by The Washington Times on what tools the administration had to protect women under Taliban rule, he offered vague options.
“I want to be able to have our team communicate directly to the Taliban both what the cost and disincentives are for certain types of action and what our expectations are,” he said.
When the Taliban last held power in Afghanistan before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, women had virtually no rights.
Under the Taliban’s interpretation of Shariah law, women were forced to quit their jobs and stay at home. They lost access to education and health care, were forced to cover their faces in public, and were confined to their homes unless accompanied by a male guardian.
Women who violated Shariah law sometimes suffered brutal beatings or were publicly executed. A woman accused of adultery would be stoned to death, while a woman accused of theft would have her hands chopped off.
Shariah law is Islam’s legal system, serving as both a religious and personal moral code that Islamists apply to all areas of life.
A Taliban spokesperson on Tuesday vowed to uphold women’s rights, saying the militant group is “committed to the rights of women under the system of Shariah law.” He added that women could work and study “within our framework.”
“They are going to be working shoulder to shoulder with us. We would like to assure the international community that there will be no discrimination,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban.
Mr. Sullivan was skeptical of the Taliban’s pledge, saying the entire international community must verify such claims.
Despite the Taliban pledge, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Taliban insurgents already have imposed harsh restrictions on women. The rules include forcing them to wear a burqa that covers their entire body, including their face, and barring them from leaving the house without a male guardian.
A 21-year-old Afghanistan law student told NBC News she ran away from her hometown fearing she would be forced to marry a Taliban fighter. She told the outlet she would “rather die than face that fate.”
In June, after taking a section of the northern province, a senior Taliban figure ordered all women over 15 and widows under 40 to be married to insurgent fighters, the Journal reported.
A bipartisan group of 40 senators on Tuesday sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asking them to admit Afghan women and girls into the U.S. for humanitarian reasons.
“We and our staff are receiving regular reports regarding the targeting, threatening, kidnapping, torturing and assassinations of women for their work defending and promoting democracy, equality, higher education and human rights,” the lawmakers wrote.