Ursula O’Kane | Student Contributor
Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan, has hurriedly fled Afghanistan following the Taliban’s rapid success in seizing control of the capital, Kabul. The Taliban’s major advances in dominating the region can be inculpated on the US’ questionable decision to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan; a crucial factor in obstructing the Taliban’s spread of terrorism.
There is no doubt that women would be most at risk under Taliban rule. Prior to the group’s ruling of Afghanistan during 1996 to 2001, Afghan women were not powerless. Afghan women were protected under the law, and increasingly afforded rights in Afghan society; receiving the right to vote in the 1920s and contributing to over 15% of Afghanistan’s highest legislative body. Women were providing crucial contributions to the national development of Afghanistan, with estimations that by the early 1990s, 70% of school teachers, 50% of government workers and university students, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women.
However, after the Taliban took power in Kabul, women immediately suffered tremendous amounts. The women’s university was closed, removing women’s access to education, and almost all women were forced to quit their jobs as teachers, doctors, nurses and clerical workers; a detrimental loss to society which desperately needed trained professionals, leaving many families whose husbands had died during Afghanistan’s long civil war with no source of income. The Taliban also perpetrated egregious acts of violence against women, including rape, abduction, and forced marriage. Some ‘lucky’ families attempted to send their daughters to Pakistan or Iran to protect them from such abuse, yet this was hardly a solution at all. Sending your daughter to a foreign country alone, with a fighting chance of ever seeing them again, did not guarantee their safety, but was seemingly the only option a small number of mothers were ‘lucky’ to have.
It is essential to understand the difference between true Islam, and the misinterpretation of Islam that the Taliban terrorists enforce. Islam has a tradition of protecting the rights of women and children, outlining women’s rights in many areas such as marriage, divorce and property rights, as well as providing punishment guidelines for violence against women. An example of this can be seen in the rules of Hirabah. In Islam, rape is called Zina Al-Zibr, and is considered a serious sexual crime with a punishment of stoning to death. The Taliban’s misinterpretation of Islam, which commits acts of violence against women, is not supported by the Muslim world and is not aligned with true Islam, and remains a threat to women today.
So what can we expect for the future of women during the Taliban’s current reign in Afghanistan?
Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, promised that the Taliban would create legislation to protect women’s rights and their participation in public life. He quotes that “the purpose would be enabling women to contribute to the country in a peaceful and protected environment,”, however, it would be naive to believe that the Taliban would act in favour of protecting women, given their horrendous track record of abuse.
Fatima Gailani, an Afghan government negotiator involved in peace talks with the Taliban, stated that “One thing is certain: It is about time that we learn how to rely on ourselves. Women of Afghanistan are totally different now. They are a force in our country — no one can deny them their rights or status.” Additionally, despite the US disbursement of more than $787 million between 2002 to 2020 into programs that “specifically and primarily” support Afghan women and girls, they continue to face high mortality and poverty rates, discrimination and violence.
Many Afghan women fear the return of the ‘dark days’ of Taliban rule. Zahra, an Afghan woman who works for a non-profit organisation to raise awareness for violence against women, questioned “How can it be possible for me, as a woman who has worked so hard and tried to learn and advance, to now have to hide myself and stay at home?”. Zahra stopped going to her office as the Taliban neared, and began working from home. However, since last Thursday, she has been unable to work. Many other Afghan women and girls living through the wake of the U.S. troop withdrawal and ahead of a Taliban victory continue to ask themselves the same question – ‘What will happen to me?’.
In particular, Wahida Sadeqi, a 17 year old student at Pardis High School in Kabul fears that she will not graduate high school, stating that “I am so worried about my future. It seems so murky. If the Taliban take over, I will lose my identity,”. Wahida further explains that “It is about my existence. I was born in 2004, and I have no idea what the Taliban did to women, but I know women were banned from everything.”
The threat that women face under the current Taliban rule is grave. The safety, health and livelihood of Afghan women is under attack. Restricting women’s access to work is an attack on women today. Removing women’s access to education is an assault on women tomorrow. Despite the fact that the Taliban destroyed the rights of women in Afghanistan decades ago, Afghan women are fearing the worst, but are prepared to defend the progress they have made over the past twenty years.
Meena, a 16 year old Afghan musician, who would have been banned from playing her music by Taliban twenty years ago, remains defiant;
“No matter what, I will play music and will help other girls to play music,”.