Introduction Afghan Women’s Resistance - Forty Years of Struggle Against Gender Apartheid




The defeat of the U.S. client regime in Afghanistan and the seizure of power by the Taliban in August 2021 marked a real turning point. These events represented another major setback for the United States in the wake of a failed war in Iraq. Journalists rushed to compare the debacle in Kabul in 2021 to Saigon in 1975, as Afghans fearful of Taliban rule scrambled to get onto US planes. Many were left behind as the United States rushed to get its own forces and those of its allies out. 

The August 2021 regime collapse in Afghanistan, although sudden in its final manifestation, was a long time coming. The United States realized it had been defeated at least by 2020, as the Trump administration agreed to a total US withdrawal in direct negotiations with the Taliban. The Biden administration continued this policy, which had two basic aspects: the United States would withdraw by the end of August 2021, and the Taliban would not attack US forces during the period of withdrawal. Both sides kept to the bargain; the Afghan people were not consulted at all, nor was the US-backed government of Ashraf Ghani, who was not even included in the negotiations.

There was an important difference from the situation in Saigon in 1975, however. The forces that defeated the United States in Vietnam included female combatants and officers. Moreover, the regime they installed to replace the US client state espoused a modernist, if authoritarian, ideology that extolled gender equality, land reform, and other forms of social and economic transformation.

In contrast, the return to power of the Taliban was instead a setback for women’s rights of epochal proportions, and for other social and political rights as well. They set about establishing an ultra-conservative fundamentalist regime of a type not seen since the Islamic State was driven out of Raqqa, Syria, in 2017. The Taliban have again established a theocracy, which openly supports long-standing hierarchies of gender, ethnicity, religion, and class, albeit with a somewhat modern form of organization, including a surveillance apparatus and modern weapons. With its denial of secondary education to girls, the new Taliban regime’s level of gender apartheid far exceeds those of Saudi Arabia and Iran. At this writing, not a single country, not even Saudi Arabia, has formally recognized the Taliban government.


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Author Biographies

Janet Afary, Mellichamp Chair of Religion and Modernity; Professor of Religious Studies, UC Santa Barbara

Janet Afary holds the Mellichamp Chair in Global Religion and Modernity at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she is a Professor of Religious Studies. She is a historian of modern Iran and has a PhD in History and Near East Studies from the University of Michigan, where her dissertation received the Distinguished Rackham Dissertation Award. Previously she taught at the Department of History and the Program in Women’s Studies at Purdue University, where she was appointed a University Faculty Scholar.

Kevin Anderson, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara

Kevin B. Anderson became a Marxist-Humanist and a scholar-activist in the 1970's, receiving a PhD in Sociology from City University of New York Graduate Center in 1983. He lived in the Chicago area for 25 years, during which time he taught at Northern Illinois and Purdue Universities and served as Literary Agent for the Estate of Raya Dunayevskaya.

Since 2009, he has been teaching in the Sociology Department at University of California, Santa Barbara, with affiliations to the Departments of Political Science, Feminist Studies, and Global Studies. Since 2009, he has also been active in social justice movements in the Los Angeles area, where he works with the International Marxist-Humanist Organization. He has held fellowships and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others.

Image 1: by Shamsia Hassani