Much has been said about the future of Afghan women and girls once again under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and for good reason. We are already seeing that, despite the Taliban’s dubious claims that their government would guarantee “all [women’s] rights within the limits of Islam,” the reality is proving otherwise.

It has been a full month since girls have been de facto banned from attending secondary school. No women have been named to the Taliban’s newly appointed Cabinet. In some areas controlled by the Taliban, women have been told they cannot seek medical care without a male relative as an escort. Others have been forcibly married off to militants.

Perhaps the most worrying signal of a return to oppressive, draconian rule is the transformation of the former Ministry of Women’s Affairs into the newly re-established Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue. This change marks the return of the Taliban’s notorious enforcer in the 1990s — charged with punishing women who violated restrictions on everything from going out in public without a male guardian to a reductive and repressive dress code.

Where is the outrage that our Afghan sisters deserve?

America must once again lead the movement to protect the rights of the most vulnerable in Afghanistan. Even though our military has left the country, America can and must use the full array of its diplomatic and economic muscle to pressure the Taliban to adhere to its earlier promises to treat women and girls more humanely. Moreover, we must be prepared to punish the group if it continues down its current path.

This won’t be easy, especially since the Biden administration has ruled out the use of military force. But the Taliban have given Washington and its allies an opening. It has requested to participate as a member of the UN. While they were not given a platform at the General Assembly this year, the Biden administration must make clear that it won’t be welcome in the future unless it changes its ways.

Under no circumstances should the U.S. recognize the Taliban — or give it access to any of the billions of dollars in foreign aid that was frozen when the Kabul government fell — until protections for women and girls are restored.


Exhausted from a 20-year war, many might wonder why the U.S. should insert itself — again — into a fight over Afghanistan’s future. The answer is easy: America and its allies gave a generation of women and girls the chance to pursue an education and taste economic freedom, and millions of them did so.

I saw this dynamic firsthand when I led “Let Girls Learn” — an initiative focused on expanding educational opportunities for women in countries like Afghanistan — for then-First Lady Michelle Obama. During our time there, we helped provide primary education for 174,000 girls, added 1,300 female teachers in underserved areas of the country, and provided university scholarships to Afghan women.

As a result of our allies’ combined efforts during our time in Afghanistan, more than half of all Afghan girls physically attended school over the past decade — a generational game-changer when two-thirds of the population is under the age of 25. In addition, the number of women in the Afghan parliament increased from 4% in the 1990s to 28% last year, and women had similar successes in business and academia.

All of this progress is now at risk. America simply cannot allow the country to become once again the only in the world to ban an entire gender from accessing their basic human right to education. In addition to diplomatic pressure, we have a responsibility to surge emergency aid and ensure unencumbered humanitarian access to temporary learning opportunities, nutritional assistance and health services, for example.

Beyond diplomacy and direct humanitarian assistance, there are other steps the president can take to support women and girls. At least 80% of those fleeing the country in recent months have been women and children. We already have a resettlement mechanism for Afghans who aided the U.S. government in the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program; however, most principal applicants are men. In parallel, we must also generously resettle women and girls, whether through the State Department’s authorization of priority refugee status for Afghans, or through a special humanitarian parole category — an idea endorsed by dozens of senators from both parties.

And it’s evident that moves like these would have significant approval from the public. Poll after poll shows Americans support resettling our Afghan allies in the U.S. If this wasn’t clear enough, the outpouring of generosity toward organizations like the one I lead — Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service — speaks volumes. We are still receiving thousands of donations and volunteer applications to assist newly arrived Afghan neighbors here in Maryland and across the country.

Afghan women deserve so much better than what the Taliban have in store for them. America’s most defining outcome in Afghanistan may be the fate of the generation of Afghan women and girls who received an education and experienced greater economic opportunity over the past 20 years. It’s what they deserve and what we owe them.