Despite the numerous reports on how the Taliban restrict women's rights, I've never found an explanation why they do it. To quote The Guardian

“Education and literacy are so strongly valued in Islam that the Taliban could not ban girls schools on Islamic grounds, so they always said they would open them when security improved. It never did. They never opened the schools,” said Kate Clark, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, who worked in Afghanistan at the time.

Ruling out Islam, what is there to gain? There is, from a Western perspective, obviously quite a lot to lose, as international scrutiny clearly disapproves, and the Taliban is apparently hoping for some form of aid.

  • How large and influential do you think the Taliban are? Wikipedia cites 2021 estimates of 75000 members, not that much for a country of that size, I would say.
    – JJJ
    Sep 19, 2021 at 13:29
  • @JJJ By large and influential, I mean large and influential enough to require some competency and seriousness.
    – Passer By
    Sep 19, 2021 at 13:35
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    "Ruling out Islam" the Taliban would not even exist. Sep 19, 2021 at 13:53
  • @Fizz Well, presumably, yes. Hence the question. Or do you suggest the quote to be utterly wrong?
    – Passer By
    Sep 19, 2021 at 13:57
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    You CAN'T rule out Islam. Islam - and imposing their version of Islam on everyone they can - is their entire reason for existence.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 19, 2021 at 17:02

7 Answers 7


The Taliban owe their success (in coming to power) in large part due to their ideology, or at least to the social-military organization that it enabled. And while technically the Deobandi schools in Pakistan where the Taliban leadership is mostly educated is distinct from Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi, they came under strong influence of the latter. And a significant part of the Wahhabi doctrine is emphasis on obedience in society as a whole. Obedience of wife(s) to man, men to ruler (amir) and religious figures etc. That works well in a fairly absolutist monarchy.

The Wahhabi doctrine also emphasized fitnah (which among other meanings it encompasses the temptation posed by women) as a threat to the fabric of society, as they see it. This is based on some hadiths that scholars from other schools consider dubious, but which under the more scripturalist approach of the Wahhabi, are not to be questioned. Perhaps it suffices in this regard to consider what it is the normative/appropriate attire for women in Saudi Arabia (and parts of Pakistan), even compared to other Muslim countries.

(Somewhat of an aside, [part of] the reason for prohibiting men to wear (just) "tight" Western trousers is that they "reveal" the thighs in a/their strict interpretation of the Quran, i.e. even men cannot expose that way area of the body from navel to knees, as another source of ‘awra [parts of body which should not be exposed due to their lustful potential] possibly leading to fitnah. Some Taliban regional authorities in particular recommend that men wear the traditional Afghan dress, sometimes called "shalwar kameez".)

Regarding women's education, it's probably least explicit why the Taliban were/are not in favor much; in more recent interviews they blamed e.g. the situation before 2000 on lack of funding for women's education.

But even in Saudi Arabia, where the situation for women regarding education is undoubtedly better, one should not ignore what the general men's view is, namely that women's education takes second seat/precedence to men's:

A 2006 values survey indicates that 75 percent of Saudi men believe that men should have priority over women in obtaining employment, [...], 68 percent believe that a university education is more important for boys than girls, and 91 percent believe that a wife must always obey her husband.

So, at the very least, a similar Taliban policy/preference is probably catering to the expectation(s) of their [male] domestic supporters.

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    Lots of false statements. Wahhabies don't have the strict obedience except to Allah. In fact, many Wahhabies are imprisoned by House of Saud for rejecting some of the things that seem to be against Allah's command, such as spending millions to host parties in a time the nation desperately needs to spend money to industrialise and advance its economy in a useful way. But what happens is that people don't see those imprisoned, and only see those who aren't, which (by definition) are those who didn't complain against the government.
    – caveman
    Sep 23, 2021 at 3:20
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    The other mistakes are milder, and a bit funny, such as claiming why trousers are banned. I suggest that you search statements in Islam Q&A as a much better representation of mainstream wahhabies. But the key mistake is exaggerating the importance of obedience to kings/husbands/etc. In fact in Wahhabis such strict obedience is forbidden as it is classified as "idolatry". Wahhbies claim that the utmost surrender is to God, and others are obeyed for as long as they don't contradict God.
    – caveman
    Sep 23, 2021 at 3:23
  • This answer is from Saudi's grand mufti Bin Baz (a very well known figure in Wahhabiesm still heavily followed; died in 1999), and literally answers this very question by saying: no obedience to husbands, princes, kings, etc in disobeying God.
    – caveman
    Sep 23, 2021 at 3:41
  • This is a correction about the incorrect statement that trousers are forbidden. The correct is: trousers that reveal private parts are forbidden, such as transparent or too right ones.
    – caveman
    Sep 23, 2021 at 3:53
  • @caveman: there are different interpretations of the same hadiths. The source I linked for that discussed the matter. Some interpretations only say that [for men] private parts are ‘awra. Others, more conservative/fundamentalist ones, have it that it's literally the whole area from the navel to the knees that's ‘awra. Sep 23, 2021 at 6:44

The Taliban do not operate in terms of maximizing material gain, otherwise they would've long abandoned Islam and adopted western values (to simplify the term) trying to gain international support that way.

They operate within the framework of their understanding of Islam, which is rooted in the Deobandi school of thought, a Sunni school of thought within Islam that is the predominant one in that part of the world (Afganistan and Pakistan).

In accordance with that understanding they deem mixed gatherings of both men and women to be harmful for both of them, for it poses a distraction as well as potential for societal issues (rushed relationships that lead to single mothers, spread of STDs, devaluation of committed relationships etc).

This is important to understand as there is no prohibition of females' education in Islam per se, so this is their judgement based on their understanding of the goals of Islam for a society.

They also deem it to be the man's responsibility to be the bread-earner and sustainer of the family, thus preference is given to men when it comes to formal education to be able to meet that responsibility.

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    But you have to understand that education means education in the religion, not education in general - because a broad education tends to lead people to question religions, and often to abandon them.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 21, 2021 at 16:07
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    There is 1 mistake: that they're not after the material gain. They're in fact after it, as well. As you point out that there is a material justification for banning gender-mixed interactions (to reduce single moms, STDs, etc), which are known to lead to negative impacts against society. Another reason why Taliban is popular in Afghanistan is because they actually punished criminals, which made Taliban areas safer than those of others. So, to them, materialism and Deobandism are not mutually exclusive.
    – caveman
    Sep 23, 2021 at 3:30
  • That's the only mistake that I found. I agree with the rest.
    – caveman
    Sep 23, 2021 at 15:51
  • @caveman Perhaps it would more appropriate to say that material gain is not their primary goal. It may be desirable, but not at the expense of other moralistic goals.
    – Barmar
    Sep 24, 2021 at 0:04
  • I like the sentence in boldface. How true, religion does not prohibit, but human does.
    – r13
    Sep 24, 2021 at 1:36

The Taliban are a theocratic organization who derives their concept of "gain" in terms of a faith based system centering on moral or spiritual capital, rather than a western\capitalist system where the concept of gain is centered on economic capital.

They "gain" a closer adherence to "the correct way to live" in accordance to their interpretation of their faith.


Almost all traditional cultures and religions are paternalistic, meaning that social, political, and economic power is vested in men, and women are rendered as either second-class citizens, non-citizens, or outright property. This is as true of Western (liberal Christian) nations as any other. For instance, in the US, women have only had the right to vote for a hundred years, were socially and economically discouraged from driving cars or from working at non-menial jobs well into the 1950s, and for much of US history were ostracized as shameless if they appeared in public with their hair loose or uncovered. And even today certain fundamentalist sects (not to mention Catholic monastic orders) impose strict limits on the dress and behavior of women, insisting on modesty, chastity, and sobriety.

Within deeply traditional communities (as we find in fundamentalist Islamic groups) the emphasis on female modesty and chastity has social and economic roots. Such societies expect women to be passed from father to husband, ensuring the continuity of bloodlines and property inheritance. Children born out of wedlock are a burden on the woman's father, because the father would have to support both the (now un-marriageable) daughter and her child. The restrictions on women's rights and strict dress codes are meant to reduce opportunities for men and women to meet in private, with the temptations that might arise (and generally are felt more strongly within sexually repressive cultures). The Taliban don't gain anything material by enforcing these restrictions; it's not a transactional situation. Instead, they assert themselves as moral authorities, and likely think of themselves as creating the 'Good Society' by their lights.


The Taliban do not restrict the activities of women because it is in their interests. This is not the conclusion of a logical train of thought on their part.

They do so because it is in their nature.

That is one aspect of their traditions, that their hardline interpretation of Islam includes a very dated concept of women that comes from the time of Mohammed.

And especially in that part of the world, tradition counts for a lot. It offers a form of stability, in an otherwise unstable situation. Even if some parts of that tradition don't translate well into contemporary times.

  • ... a very dated concept of women that comes from the time of Mohammed. Ill-informed answer that seems to be based on the common, yet baseless, "women had no rights in past civilisations"-narrative. The fact is, women at the time of Prophet Muhammad definitely had access to education just like their male counterparts, and some women (such as the wife Aisha of the Prophet) were even educators to other men. Sep 28, 2021 at 11:35

What the Taliban has to gain is the confidence of Afganistan. There were US campaigns in the 80s and 90s for womens rights in Afghanistan which were beginning to gain quite a bit of traction bit were deligimitised by beconing associated with the Afghanistan war by an invading and then occupying force.

Islam values education: There is a weak Hadith that states:

Seek knowledge even if you go as far as China, for seeking knowledge is a duty on every muslim.

And a stronger Hadith:

The Messenger of Allah said, "Seeking knowledge is obligatory on every muslim." Classified as sahih (authentic) by Al-Albani in Sahih Sunan Ibn Majah.

These speak for themselves, although opinion is divided upon to what extent this means worldly knowledge and knowledge of deen (religion), and hence, sharia. Nevertheless, the world - and I mean by this, the universe - is sometimes referred to as the cosmological qu'ran having come from the breath of Allah. Recall, that the Qu'ran is literally the words of Allah (and this isn't a million miles away from the first verse of the gospel of John).

Saudia Arabia and its brand of Islam, Wahaabism, is often used as a whipping in the West for all that's medieval and backward in the countries that aspire to Islam. In particular, for womens rights. Yet, Riyadh, the capital of Saudia Arabia has the Princess Norah bint Abdul Rahman university. It is the largest womens university in the world with 34 colleges in Riyadh and neighbouring cities with 34 thousand female students, 3800 academic staff and 2100 administrative staff.

And once one begins to dig into the history of this university one sees that womens education was being ptomoted in Saudia Arabia. The university was founded in 1970 (forty years after Saudia Arabia was instituted by a nation by king Saud) as a college dedicated tonwomens education. Within 25 years, there were an additional 102 similar colleges inn7w cities cateting to 60,000 female students. This is remarkable growth by any standards.

However, one has to remember that Saudia Arabia was swimmimg in black gold (but perhaps not for much longer given how fossil fuels are viewed today in the current climate change crisis). Thiley had plenty of fumds to build those 10w colleges, to pay the staff, and also give stidents grants to study and pay the college fees. This is not true for Afghanistan. Moreover, Saudia Arabia has been a secure country since its foundation with no threats at its borders. This is quite in contrast to Afghanistan, which has been involved in a proxy war due to the Cold War and the war that has just ended and part of the War on Terrorism. This has had major repurcussions on both Afghanistans infrastructure and many socioeconomic factors.

Personally speaking, I'm not particularly keen on the Taliban. However, they aren't ISIS amd nor are they Nazi's. If self-determination of a nation in the democracy of nations is to have any meaning, they should be left alone to reconstruct their nation and find their own way in integrating womens rights into how they see and interpret Islam.

As Afghanistan has proven (and as Vietnam did earlier), trying to force a full scale social revolution at the point of a gun is bad politics. You cannot bomb a population into submission. I suspect that the Taliban are weary of this moral finger wagging by the West and a lot of their recalritance on this issue is due to this.

Take a hypothetical situation, suppose China invaded Britain because they felt they were doing their own population an injustice by cleaving close to a capitalist system with monarchical characteristics - whereas in their own eyes, a communist system with Chinese characteristics is much more forward thinking. I do not think the British people would take to this kindly (nor I, even when I do count myself as a communist). Nobody likes being preached at the point of a gun and most often, what is being preached is often deliberately flouted.

The essential point I'm making here, and which seems to require spelling out is that the campaign for womens rights in Afganistan, in Afghan eyes, has become delegitimised by becoming associated with the War on Terror in Afganistan. This essential point has been made by Rafia Zakaria in her book, Against White Feminism where she describes how a US campaign called the Feminist Majority was campaigning for gender equality in Afghanistan in the 80s & 90s and which was consulted and then latched onto by the State Department and the White House before the invasion was announced.

One final point. The woman hidden under a hijab is now often taken as a symbol of the backwardness of Islam. Yet when I visited Bangladesh as a young child, I rarely saw any woman in a burkha. Why? Because we lived in a rural area of Bangladesh where an extended family would live in a compound (in mine, I had five uncles with at least five kids adding to thirty five people when you include my own family). Since the women were all related to the men, there was no need to wear a burkha. The only time you would see a woman wear one, was when they went to the bazaar or to go visit a relative or friend in a faroff village (more often, a relative). Since the bazaars were often dirty and manky, its not surprising they sent their menfolk to do the legwork. And nor would they have been happy to be told they had to work there (remember, its dirty and manky) and again, rather have their men-folk do that work. Now, Afghanistan is mostly rural ... and it needs to work out its own path in integrating modernity into its Islamic worldview.

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    This is all very interesting, but does not really answer the question. Also contains a lot of personal opinion.
    – Philipp
    Sep 24, 2021 at 12:01
  • @Phillip: It's saying that the question is badly formed and that the Taliban is not, per se, focused on restricting womens rights - that's the Western focus on the same situation. Sep 24, 2021 at 20:29
  • @Phillip: As for my opinion that democracy can't be coerced on a population, this is a widespread opinion in certain circles; also you might want to look at Rafia Zakaria's book, Against White Feminism where she writes about a US feminist campaign called The Feminist Majority to end what she calls 'gender apartheid' in Afghanistan. She also statesthis was leveraged into the War against Terrorism in Afghanistan which deligitimised the whole canpaign ... Sep 24, 2021 at 20:37
  • @Phillip: ... And this is my essential point, in Afghan eyes, the notion of womens right's has been deligitimised by becoming part of the war in Afghanistan by an invading and then occupying force. Sep 24, 2021 at 20:46
  • @Phillip:... as you seemed to have missed this very obvious point in my post, I've expanded upon it and added a reference. As you can see your assumption "of a lot of personal opinion" in my post is just wrong. If you have down-voted because of this, can you rescind your vote. Sep 24, 2021 at 20:48

First of all. We don't know whether they are really banning girls education or they suspended it until segregated schools will be avaible. Anyway this is one of the rules that attracts the attention, but actually what matters is the entire set of rules which will come with the implementation of the Sharia.

By enforcing a lot of moral rules first of all people basically lose their right to privacy, thus it makes a lot easier for an authoritarian government to intrude, spy and control every move of their citizens. The second advantage is that a lot of those rules are so oppressive and unmotivated that eventually a lot of people will begin to flout them. When everyone is guilty it is easier to control the population. Officials may turn a blind eye to some violation or suddenly enforce them harshly when it suits them. People may be arrested threatened and forced to spy on their neighbours just for having an alcoholic drink. In Iran or Saudi Arabia the rules on alcohol or the ones on the segregation of genders are those flouted more often.

So, what they have to gain is power and since they just took control of the country and their grip on power is still unstable probably they'll adoption of the Sharia will be as strict as possible.

Another advantage coming from the rules on women rights is that image they give. They paint themselves as backward ultra conservatives. Thus they hope that people won't notice that they are not enforcing these rules out of a belief but because they want to use them as a tool to hold on power.

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