For Afghan women, there’s no clarity on the future that awaits them. As Taliban fighters close in on the capital city of Kabul amid reports of a “peaceful” transition of power from the government in Afghanistan, it’s not mere intuition telling women far from the administrative processes that peace is an elusive dream now. Because they are seeing things, dreadful things, that remind them of the period of turmoil between 1996 and 2001 when the Taliban ruled before the US invasion.
A tectonic change appears to be incoming, leaving women’s rights and lives in the lurch.
“Everyone’s talking about how it’s going to be peaceful. But it’s suffocating. It’s limiting,” Pashtana Zalmai Khan Durrani, Executive Director at LEARN, a non-profit in Afghanistan dedicated to education and resource building with a focus on women and girls’ rights, tells SheThePeople.
“I see interviews by Taliban leaders who say they will respect women’s rights. They are so vague about it. They say they will let girls study. What kind of education? Islamic studies or other learning? And what about working? These are things they need to give us answers to. We need assurance on the educational, political and social rights of women.”
What is the Taliban saying on women’s rights?
Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen, talking to the media, has said they “will respect rights of women,” and that under their rule, their policy will allow women “access to education and work, to wear the hijab.” The latter is a point the group is deeply insistent on for all women, claiming it is in line with Islamic tradition. That they are forcing single women into marriage, shutting schools and blocking out rights has been termed “propaganda” by Shaheen, who adds the Taliban is committed to the protection of vulnerable communities in Afghanistan.
Already, Afghan women are being coerced into retreating from public life.
Reports emerging from Kandahar relate how women in banking jobs were escorted home by armed gunmen, with no hopes of return as the radical Islamist outfit pushes back on their professional lives. Male relatives have been asked to take their place at the bank.
“A woman has worked there for years after attending college. And now you tell me she should sit at home and her brother who isn’t even trained in that capacity should work in her place? That doesn’t make it very democratic, not even humane,” Durrani says.
What Lies Ahead For Afghan Women? Rights And Dignity Hang In The Balance
“A return to the dark days” is how Afghan women and girls are putting their despair into words. During the Afghan Civil War in the period that the Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the rights of women were notoriously rolled back under the imposition of a harsh reading of religious law.
From the arts to leisure to free choice to dignity to politics, a clampdown on everything that is the essence of life itself was the way of the military rule for women. They were not allowed to move outdoors without a male guardian, much less move without garb adequately covering their bodies, as commanded by the Taliban.
These are diktats reportedly returning under the Taliban’s resurgence in the country, as told through instances of women as young as 21 being executed for not donning the veil or wearing clothes of their choice and lashed for slipping into sandals that are “revealing.”
Images doing the rounds online show public displays of women on advertisements allegedly being painted over as Kabul surrenders.
Images of women are painted over in Afghanistan. https://t.co/Hei91N1Jul
— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) August 15, 2021
According to reports by the BBC, there are cases of women trying to enter universities and other institutions being asked to return home with the assurance that they would receive due instruction on how to pursue higher education further, but within the construct of the Taliban’s regulations. Women will be expected to wear a hijab, voices from on-ground add in the report.
Over two decades, Afghan women fought hard to access a semblance of human and gender rights in their favour; a society where they could study, have careers, be financially independent and raise opinions. These empowerments appear to be making a rapid backtrack, replaced by women’s fears for their safety in their own homeland.
The last time they ruled Afghanistan, ‘sexual slavery’ of women sanctioned by them as weapons of war was common. Now, the Taliban are reportedly going door-to-door in demand of young, unmarried girls or widows for sexual favours and marriage to their terrorists.
Women are not coming out of their houses. They are scared, Durrani says. Everyone is scared. She doesn’t believe things will be different from how they were between 1996 and 2001.
Latest reports by the Associated Press from Afghanistan claim President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country – the fates of over three crore people left to the Taliban amid a worsening crisis and imminent doom. Women – displaced, torn, afraid, resilient – try to find their place and identity within this hopeless rearrangement.
“One Ghani will leave, another will take his place,” Durrani says. “In the process, it’s the women who will suffer.”
Image: John Crozier / Unsplash