The Taliban has issued a decree barring forced marriage in Afghanistan, saying women should not be considered “property” and must consent to marriage, but questions remain about whether the group that returned to power in mid-August would extend women’s rights around work and education.
The decree was announced on Friday by the reclusive Taliban chief, Hibatullah Akhunzada – who is believed to be in the southern city of Kandahar. “Both (women and men) should be equal,” said the decree, adding that “no one can force women to marry by coercion or pressure”.
The decree did not mention a minimum age for marriage, which previously was set at 16 years old.
The group also said a widow will now be allowed to re-marry 17 weeks after her husband’s death, choosing her new husband freely
Longstanding tribal traditions have held it customary for a widow to marry one of her husband’s brothers or relatives in the event of his death.
The Taliban leadership says it has ordered Afghan courts to treat women fairly, especially widows seeking inheritance as next of kin. The group, which came to power in August, also said it had asked government ministers to spread awareness about women’s rights across the population.
The development was hailed as a significant step forward by two leading Afghan women, but questions remained about whether the group would extend women’s rights around work and education.
“This is big, this is huge … if it is done as it is supposed to be, this is the first time they have come up with a decree like this,” said Mahbouba Seraj, executive director of the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Center speaking from Kabul on a Reuters Next conference panel on Friday.
The international community, which has frozen billions of dollars in funds for Afghanistan, has made women’s and human rights a key element of any future engagement with Afghanistan.
Seraj said that even before the Taliban took over the country on August 15, Afghan politicians had struggled to form such a clear policy on women’s rights around marriage.
“Now what we have to do as the women of this country is we should make sure this actually takes place and gets implemented,” said Seraj.
Roya Rahmani, the former ambassador for Afghanistan to the United States, echoed her optimism and added that it was likely partly an attempt to smooth over international fears regarding the group’s track record on women’s rights as the Taliban administration seeks to get funding released.
“An amazing thing if it does get implemented,” Rahmani told the Reuters Next panel, adding details such as who would ensure that girls’ consent was not coerced by family members would be key.
“It’s a very smart move on the part of Taliban at this point because one of the (pieces of) news that is attracting the West’s attention is the fact little girls are being sold as property to others in order to feed the rest of the family,” she said. REAS MORE