The rapid advance of the Taliban through Afghanistan has left women and girls, a generation of whom have grown up with rights and freedoms, among the most vulnerable. Now they risk losing their hard-won gains as the Taliban draw closer to Kabul.
As the Taliban continue their dramatic advance through Afghanistan’s largest cities and provincial areas, with two-thirds of the country now under their control and the capital Kabul in their sights, women and girls are among the most vulnerable.
Afghan women have been targeted for denouncing attacks by the Taliban or simply for holding positions of authority.
Since the start of 2021, civilian deaths have risen by nearly 50% with more women and children killed and injured in Afghanistan than in the first six months of any year since records began in 2009, the UN reported in July.
The Afghan government has blamed most of the targeted killings on the Taliban, who deny carrying out these crimes.
If Islamist insurgents conquer the capital, many fear a disintegration of women’s rights, if the Taliban continue to obscure freedoms won over the past 20 years, since US-led forces promoted a transition to democracy.
“The Taliban will roll back freedom at all levels and that is what we are fighting against,” an Afghan government spokesman told Reuters news agency on Aug. 13.
“Women and children suffer the most and our forces are trying to save democracy. The world must understand us and help us.”
‘Our world is collapsing’
As city after city falls to Islamist insurgents, those pleas for help may come too late. Numerous reports have emerged of the Taliban going door to door, drawing up lists of women and girls between the ages of 12 and 45 who are then forced to marry Islamist fighters. Women are told that they cannot leave home without a male companion, that they can no longer work or study or freely choose the clothes they want to wear. Schools are also closed.
For a whole generation of Afghan women who entered public life – legislators, journalists, local governors, doctors, nurses, teachers and public administrators – there is much to lose. As they strove, working alongside male colleagues and in communities unaccustomed to seeing women in positions of authority, to help build a democratically run civil society, they also hoped to open opportunities for later generations of women to succeed them.
Zahra, 26, is one of many young women who fear that her education and ambitions will turn to nothing. He watched Thursday night as the Taliban flooded his hometown of Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city, and raised their white flags adorned with a declaration of Islamic faith.
“I’m very shocked,” Zahra, who works for a nonprofit organization to raise awareness about women, told AP news agency. “How can it be possible for me, as a woman who has worked so hard and tried to learn and move forward, now have to hide and stay at home?”
Zahra stopped going to the office a month ago, when the Taliban approached, and began working remotely from her home. But since Thursday he has not been able to work.
Many other educated Afghan women have taken to social media to ask for help and express their frustration.
“With the collapse of every city, the collapse of human bodies, the collapse of dreams, the collapse of history and the future, the collapse of art and culture, the collapse of life and beauty, the collapse of our world, “wrote Afghan photographer Rada Akbar on Twitter.
with every city collapsing, human bodies collapse, dreams collapse, history and future collapse, art and culture collapse, life and beauty collapse, our world collapse. someone please stop this.💔
– Rada Akbar (@RADAAKBAR) August 12, 2021
Farkhunda Zahra Naderi, a former legislator and senior UN adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and now a member of the High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan, has seen her country open up over 20 years to become part of the global community.
“My biggest fear is that they are now marginalizing the women who have been working in these leadership positions, who have been a strong voice against the most powerful abusers, but are also working with them to change the situation on the ground,” she said. in an interview with Bloomberg. If these leaders are eliminated, he asks, who will be left to speak for women and defend the gains made in the last 20 years?
Today, a number of female classmates and professors went to Herat University, but the Taliban did not allow any of them to enter the university. Only male students and professors were allowed to enter the university.
Can you hear us? pic.twitter.com/jtYLrAl2aN
– Haanya Saheba Malik (@MalikHaanya) August 14, 2021
Taliban leaders repeatedly asserted in talks with Western leaders that ultimately failed this month in Doha that women would continue to have the same rights under Islamic law, including the ability to work and receive education. But in cities overrun by Taliban insurgents, women are already losing their jobs to men.
Employees of two bank branches, one in Kandahar and the other in Herat city, were harassed and punished by Taliban gunmen in July. The armed men accompanied the women home and told them not to return to their jobs, that they would go to their male relatives.
“It’s really strange that we are allowed to work, but now this is what it is,” Noor Khatera, a 43-year-old woman who had worked in the bank’s accounts department, told Reuters.
“I learned English on my own and even learned to operate a computer, but now I will have to find a place where I can work with more women.”
Women under the rule of the Taliban
When the fundamentalist group ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, it imposed Sharia law, a strict interpretation of Islamic law that meant that women could not work, girls were prohibited from attending school, and women had to cover their faces in public. and move on to the protection of a man if they wanted to leave their homes.
Women who broke the rules were sometimes subjected to public humiliation and beatings by the Taliban religious police. The Taliban also carried out public executions, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned women accused of adultery.
So far there have been no reports of such extreme measures in the areas captured by the Taliban. But the many recently reported incidents of the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls suggest that they intend to return to rule as before.
A ‘bleak’ future for students
Victoria Fontan, vice president of the American University of Afghanistan, told France 24 that the situation for Afghan women and girls is very bleak, especially for those who are students.
Professor Fontan said that some of her own students were taking refuge in the cities of Kandahar and Herat, which were taken over by the Taliban.
“Life is very difficult for them,” he said. “Will they be able to continue studying online or not? Telecommunications is going to be a key strategy for the Taliban and therefore for (the students) their only livelihood is the Internet, so they are extremely worried that they will be confined to their homes and will no longer be able to study. “
But some, like Marianne O’Grady, Care International’s deputy country director in Kabul, are more optimistic. She believes that the achievements of women in the past two decades will be difficult to erase, even if the Taliban succeed in taking office.
“You can’t uneducate millions of people,” he told the AP. If women “are behind walls and can’t go out as much, at least now they can educate their cousins and neighbors and their own children in a way that couldn’t happen 25 years ago.”
However, many women are choosing to flee. Almost 250,000 Afghans have fled their homes since the end of May, 80% of them women and children, according to the UN refugee agency.
Ghani broke days of silence on Saturday to address his fellow citizens, saying his main responsibility now was to prevent further destruction and instability. But Ghani’s message will sound hollow to Afghan women who are already witnessing retaliation and a shift in freedoms they once enjoyed.
In the days of the Taliban rule, Zarmina Kakar, a 26-year-old women’s rights activist from Kabul, recalled a time when her mother took her to buy ice cream and was whipped by a Taliban fighter for momentarily exposing her face. .
“Today again I feel that if the Taliban come to power, we will go back to the same dark days,” he told the AP.
With Reuters and AP