Afghanistan: Taliban bans use of contraception calling it a ‘western conspiracy’ - latest on women’s rights

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The Taliban has claimed that contraception is a ‘western conspiracy’ used to ‘control’ the Muslim population.

The Taliban has banned the sale of contraceptives in two of Afghanistan’s major cities, reports say.

The group has claimed that the use of contraception and family planning by women is a ‘western conspiracy’ being pushed to ‘control’ the Musli population, according to The Guardian. The newspaper has learnt that Taliban fighters and officials have been threatening healthcare workers and turning up at pharmacies, ordering them to get rid of any birth control medicines or devices.

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“They came to my store twice with guns and threatened me not to keep contraceptive pills for sale,” one pharmacist, who did not wish to be named, told the paper. “They are regularly checking every pharmacy in Kabul, and we have stopped selling the products.”

A midwife, who also wished to stay anonymous, said she was told by a commander from the Taliban: “You are not allowed to go outside and promote the western concept of controlling the population. This is unnecessary.”

It is the latest crackdown on women’s rights and freedom since the Taliban regained power of Kabul in August 2021. Despite initially promising a more moderate rule, and saying women’s and minority rights would be respected, there has widely been harsher interpretation of Islamic Law - or Sharia.

The Taliban has banned the sale of contraceptives in two of Afghanistan’s major cities, reports say. Credit: Getty ImagesThe Taliban has banned the sale of contraceptives in two of Afghanistan’s major cities, reports say. Credit: Getty Images
The Taliban has banned the sale of contraceptives in two of Afghanistan’s major cities, reports say. Credit: Getty Images | AFP via Getty Images

In December 2022, the Taliban banned all women in Afghanistan from both private and public universities. Prior to this, women were excluded from parks and gyms, blocked from most fields of employment, and not allowed to travel without a male escort.

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It is also mandatory for women and girls to wear the hijab or the burqa when outside of the home - and young girls have been banned from secondary schools since March 2022. The Taliban has said that access to education would only be reopened once a plan was established which ensured girls’ attendance complied with its strict interpretation of Sharia.

Shabnam Nasimi, an Afghan social activist living in the UK, said: “The Taliban’s control not only over women’s human right to work and study, but now also over their bodies, is outrageous. It is a fundamental human right to have access to family planning and contraception services free of coercion.

“Such autonomy and agency are essential components of women’s rights such as the right to equality, non-discrimination, life, sexual health, reproductive health, and other basic human rights. It is central to women’s empowerment.” She also added on social media: “The Quran does not prohibit birth control. The Taliban have no right to ban contraception.”

One 17-year-old girl, who was married two years ago in Afghanistan and has an 18-month-old daughter, told The Guardian she had been “secretly” using contraceptives to avoid immediate pregnancy. She said: “I want to raise my daughter well with proper health and education facilities but it shattered my dreams when the midwife last week informed me that she had no contraceptive pills and injections to offer me.

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“I left education to get married and I don’t want my daughter’s fate to be the same as mine,” she continued. “I seek a different future for my daughter. The last hope to plan my life has ended.”

Members of Afghanistan’s Powerful Women Movement, take part in a protest in Kabul, chanting “burqa is not my hijab” after the Taliban’s order for women to cover fully in public. Credit: Getty ImagesMembers of Afghanistan’s Powerful Women Movement, take part in a protest in Kabul, chanting “burqa is not my hijab” after the Taliban’s order for women to cover fully in public. Credit: Getty Images
Members of Afghanistan’s Powerful Women Movement, take part in a protest in Kabul, chanting “burqa is not my hijab” after the Taliban’s order for women to cover fully in public. Credit: Getty Images | AFP via Getty Images

Access to information on contraception, maternal health, and family planning has long been inaccessible for many women and girls in Afghanistan - even before the Taliban took back control. A 2021 report by Human Rights Watch said there was a system in the country “in which women have more children than they want because of lack of access to modern contraception.”

The report said it also results in women facing “risky pregnancies because of lack of care” and undergoing “procedures that could be done more safely with access to and capacity to use more modern techniques.”

Women in Afghanistan have been staging protests against the restriction of their rights over the past few months, but these are often quickly shut down. Meanwhile, the United Nations and several countries across the world have condemned the Taliban’s recent actions - with officials recently meeting to discuss a plan for how to protect the rights of women and girls.

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UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said that throughout the meetings, the “need for a revitalised and realistic political pathway was consistently highlighted and all [nations] remained firm on the fundamental principles, including women’s and girls’ rights to education, work and public life in Afghanistan.”

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