Fear of Annulling Divorce in Afghanistan… Towards the Disqualification of Women
By: Suad Asweilem
Since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 2021, they have resolved to renew their old war on women and individual rights as part of their political project.
Once this extremist movement regained control, it restricted women’s right to education and work. Women were required to cover their bodies from head to toe, except for their eyes, in public.
These laws touched on individuals’ rights to sovereignty over their lives and enabled the Taliban leadership to exercise absolute power over society to ensure its subordination.
It is a tactic that political regimes use constantly, using religion, nationality, or traditional values, to ensure that societies do not deviate from the imposed backward, patriarchal frameworks. It pursues policies that align with its agendas, whether through laws or direct sanctions that use official institutions.
Fear of abolishing the right to divorce and prosecution of women
After passing several resolutions restricting women’s movement and their rights to life, the Taliban continued to crack down on women’s eligibility by passing Islamic state laws.
Laws that treat women as if they were forever minors. These laws forbid women to travel without a mahram and prevent them from studying and working, as their primary job is marriage and providing care, which can be done from home.
The Taliban restricted women’s movement and did not allow them to engage in any activity that signified their humanity.
This initiation of the delegitimization of women, hiding them, and inciting society against them contributed to the rise of misogyny.
The movement sought to tighten control over women in Afghanistan by resorting to religious readings that restrict the right to divorce to men, so that women cannot ask for marriage annulment, no matter how violent the relationship was.
Therefore, the movement began to target women who obtained a unilateral divorce, especially those who fled Taliban leaders and members, and obtained a court order for divorce.
In this context, some women confirmed being pursued and threatened with death, which led them to hide. Others were forcibly returned to their abusive husbands.
This situation has raised fear among large categories of women who obtained a divorce before the Taliban came to power, because they threatened to return them to their husbands and cancel their divorce, even if some of them had remarried.
Taliban’s targeting of women who broke the marital bond can spread fear and control over society. The subjugation of wives and violence against them is one of the movement’s guarantees to continue its rule and to make it the supreme authority in everything related to public life.
The stigma of divorce and the fear of women’s freedom
The stigma of divorce is associated with a patriarchal fear of women’s ability to break the cycle of violence or to make choices, and determine the course of their lives.
Consequently, there is a significant investment in making marriage an eternal bond that women have a responsibility to maintain through patience and sacrifice.
Even if patience meant enduring violence and abuse, divorce would be a political declaration of the wife’s refusal to remain in this predetermined role.
Divorce can occur for several reasons, and does not have to be limited to violence, as with consensual divorce. However, patriarchy in Afghanistan associates divorced women with shame and stigmatization, since they cannot play the “sole” role they are expected to.
This is why many political systems have delegated marriage laws to a religious authority that prevents any space for changing patriarchal values. It restricts divorce and considers it a grave matter.
For example, wives must prove that they are being harmed, or that their husbands suffer from a certain illness to obtain a divorce.
This restricts women’s right to leave marriage, forcing them to be victims of abuse. In many Muslim societies, men are granted the right to oral divorce, because the right to divorce–as well as custody–are exclusive to what the patriarchal system defines as the “head of the family.”
Hence, linking divorce and marriage to the sacred resulted in a crackdown on women’s rights. It has made it easier for them to be disqualified in repressive regimes that target them through laws that violate their sovereignty over their bodies and gender.
Women’s bodies are spaces for the authority
Repressive regimes rely on patriarchy as a key to controlling societies and ensuring their submission.
Enacting laws and penalties targeting women, their security, and control over their bodies has become the easiest means for these regimes.
For centuries, societies have been spoon-fed misogyny, making it a cultural value and a social habit. This normalized the oppression of women and placed it among the first repressive steps that any political system promotes.
Women’s bodies have become spaces for the authority that exercises control, whether through legal violence or economic, physical, and sexual violence. The authority does it to spread panic and break the power of those who classify it as the enemy.
In the Afghan context, which is global, the people are the enemy.
As a patriarchal society that regards women’s bodies as a source of shame, subjugating the people is made easier by inducing the disavowal of any attempt by women to assert their own sovereignty over their bodies or selves.
Between the violence of the Taliban and the violence of Western colonialism. Afghan women resist
Afghan women live in constant and dual violence. Since the U.S. invasion in the nineties and the emergence of extremist religious groups, they have been forced to fight on two fronts.
The first is the struggle against American and European colonialism, which colonized and destroyed their country, spread violence and exploitation, turned them into a backyard for colonial terrorism and war experiments, and gave the green light to backward and extremist groups to spread more destruction. In addition, they used women’s issues as justification for the invasion, by raising the false slogan “Save the women of Afghanistan,” which was considered the most famous slogan of the American invasion.
The second front is the front line against the Taliban, which has directed its destructive battle against the Afghan people, not against the American invasion. It used a political ideology aimed at spreading terror, dispersing the people, and spreading backwardness and violence.
This fight against multiple fronts has made Afghan women harder. They live the terror of murder and persecution, are barred from public spaces, and are restricted by the Taliban’s repressive laws.
Not to mention that Afghan women suffer the violence of colonial sanctions, and are used by the American regime as a pretext that dehumanizes them and destroys their chances of toppling the existing regime. Despite this, women have shown unparalleled courage by rejecting this violence and continuing to expose abuses and resistance against them.
Since the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan in 2021, the resurgence of their oppressive policies has had a profound impact on women’s rights and individual freedoms, rekindling an age-old war on personal liberties. In the wake of their return to power, the Taliban swiftly curtailed women’s access to education and work, imposing strict dress codes that further stripped away their autonomy in public spaces.
This strategy, familiar to repressive regimes worldwide, utilizes religion, nationalism, or traditional values to enforce a patriarchal framework, maintaining control over society through restrictive laws and official sanctions.
Fear of losing the right to divorce and facing persecution intensified as the Taliban passed laws treating women as perpetual minors, restricting their movements and relegating them primarily to the roles of marriage and caregiving. This delegitimization of women not only concealed them but also fueled a rise in misogyny, solidifying the Taliban’s grip on Afghan society.
In a bid to tighten control, the Taliban targeted women who sought divorce, especially those fleeing abusive relationships. Reports of pursuits, death threats, forced returns, and the cancellation of divorces sent shockwaves of fear through women who had divorced prior to the Taliban’s return.
The stigma surrounding divorce is deeply entrenched in patriarchal fears of women breaking free from predetermined roles. This societal investment in eternal marriage bonds places an undue burden on women, even if it means enduring violence and abuse.
In Afghanistan, as in many patriarchal societies, marriage laws are dictated by religious authorities, limiting the space for challenging patriarchal values and making divorce a complex, stigmatized process. Women are often forced to endure abuse or meet stringent criteria to obtain a divorce, further restricting their agency.
Repressive regimes, rooted in patriarchy, leverage laws and penalties to control women, turning their bodies into spaces for authority. The normalization of misogyny over centuries has facilitated the oppression of women, making it a key tool for political systems seeking control.
Afghan women find themselves caught in a dual struggle, combating both the violence of the Taliban and the repercussions of Western colonialism. The U.S. invasion, justified under the false slogan of “Save the women of Afghanistan,” intensified their plight, turning them into collateral damage in a broader geopolitical conflict.
Living amidst the terror of extremist violence and enduring the impact of colonial sanctions, Afghan women display unmatched resilience. Despite being exploited as pawns in a geopolitical chess game, they courageously resist both the Taliban’s oppressive policies and the dehumanizing effects of Western colonialism, standing as symbols of resilience and determination in the face of adversity.