Leiden Safety and Security Blog

Afghan Women and the Taliban

Afghan Women and the Taliban

Burqa’s and Kalashnikov’s, female suicide bombers and all-female training units. The value of women in terrorist organisations is more and more recognized and utilised by terrorist organisations. Women are increasingly visibly active in various roles, ranging from suicide bombers to smugglers, from providers of vital intel to mothers raising new recruits.    

Consequently, there has been an increase in media and academic attention for the role of women in terrorist organisations and insurgency groups as well as for women’s possible role in preventing and combatting political violence. This increased attention for women in relation to political violence poses the interesting question how women in Afghanistan have responded to the political violence in their country. Are Afghan women involved in the armed struggle of the Taliban in any way? Can Afghan women play a role in countering extremist violence?

A recently published paper of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague explores the response of Afghan women to political violence in their country so as to contribute to a better understanding of the role of women in Afghanistan in (countering) political violence. The Taliban’s severe abuse of women’s rights has kept the media focus and the research scope largely on the repression of Afghan women. Consequently, there are no official statistics and little academic findings on women who support or have supported the Taliban. Nevertheless, findings on the anecdotal level suggest women, as mothers and wives of Taliban fighters, can play a supportive role for the Taliban as informers and even smugglers. Similarly, anecdotal evidence demonstrates women’s resilience to the Taliban as women operated in underground networks to ensure the survival of civil society. Today, some politically active women openly combat the resurgence of the Taliban. Without trivializing the horrific violence and repression Afghan women have endured, this paper shows their characterization as voiceless victims of repression and violence is incorrect and incomplete.

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