KABUL – In a distressing revelation, a report by a U.K.-based rights group, Afghan Witness, highlights a troubling threefold increase in online abuse and hate speech directed at politically active women in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
The report, released on Monday, reveals a staggering 217% surge in abusive posts between June and December 2021 compared to the same period in 2022. Drawing from its experience in similar research conducted in Myanmar, the Afghan Witness team utilized publicly available information from X (formerly known as Twitter) and conducted detailed interviews with six Afghan women to probe the nature of online abuse post-Taliban rule.
The investigators scrutinized over 78,000 posts written in Dari and Pashto, two local Afghan languages, targeting almost 100 accounts of politically active Afghan women. Shockingly, the report underscores the sexualized nature of the abuse, with over 60% of posts in 2022 containing terms like “whore” or “prostitute.”
The interviews with the affected women revealed a distressing pattern of messages containing explicit content, threats of sexual violence, and death. One interviewee noted, “I think the hatred they show on social media does not differ from what they feel in real life.”
The report identifies four prevalent themes in the abusive posts: accusations of promiscuity, claims of violating cultural and religious norms, allegations of being agents of the West, and accusations of making false claims for asylum abroad.
Francesca Gentile, the lead investigator of the Afghan Witness project, expressed concern, stating, “Since the Taliban´s takeover of Afghanistan, social media has turned from being a place for social and political expression to a forum for abuse and suppression, especially of women.”
The Taliban, who have imposed strict measures on women’s rights since taking power, have not yet responded to the report. The harsh restrictions, including barring women from public life and work and limiting girls’ education beyond the sixth grade, contribute to a hostile environment for women who dare to express themselves.
Gentile emphasized, “The Taliban´s hostility towards women and their rights sends a message to online abusers that any woman who stands up for herself is fair game.”
The report concludes by noting that the majority of those responsible for the online abuse are men from diverse political affiliations, ethnic groups, and backgrounds. The pervasive nature of this issue underscores the urgent need for action to protect the digital well-being of politically active Afghan women in the face of increasing online hostility.