Afghanistan, Terror Returns and Women Lose Their Freedom

"Prohibition of laughing in public, working and studying. Prohibition of leaving the house if they're not accompanied by male relatives." The Taliban claim that women's rights will be respected, but many suspect that Sharia law will be implemented as it was in 1996.
Afghanistan, Terror Returns and Women Lose Their Freedom

Last update: 16 September, 2021

In a recent appearance on TV to gain the trust of the media, Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban claimed that women would be able to study, that their rights would be respected, and that they’d be happy to live under Sharia law. However, the truth is that as many women and girls are disappearing in Afghanistan today as between 1996 and 2001.

No one believes his false proclamations or his suddenly conciliatory attitude. That’s because, in the meantime, female figures have been blanked out from advertising posters, or the posters have been torn from the shops for fear of what might happen. Furthermore, women are already missing from the streets as they hide in the solitude of their houses or desperately search for an escape via Kabul airport.

In fact, hope is fading once again in a country that seems to be perpetually in ruins. Indeed, it’s a country where being a woman has almost always been difficult. However, if, in the last twenty years, Afghan women had begun to regain their voice and presence in the public sphere, the rapid and unexpected advance of the Taliban has now condemned them once more to return to their burqas in a new reign of terror.

Under Sharia law, women and girls can’t work or study. Neither can they go out on the street if they’re not accompanied by a male relative.

image depicting how women and girls disappear in Afghanistan

Afghanistan under the Islamic Emirate

When international troops were withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2011, Oxfam International launched an appeal. However, all the progress it made could be lost overnight. The progress that meant more than 50 percent of girls started school and 28 percent of the members of parliament in the country were women. Now, these achievements are threatened.

Here’s an example. Beheshta Arghand, host of the Tolo News channel in Afghanistan, was recently interviewing a Taliban official. He assured her that there’d be no violence against women and that their rights would be assured. However, once that meeting was over, the presenter herself explained through tears on a chat forum that the Taliban had suspended her employment and salary, as well as all her female colleagues, for an indefinite period of time.

As a matter of fact, the truth is, that the Taliban respects the rights of women, provided they comply with the precepts of Sharia law. However, this recent turn of events was something that no one expected. Indeed, few predicted such a rapid advance by the Taliban. Even less, the flight of President Ashraf Ghani and the withdrawal of an Afghan army that’s put up no resistance to the flag of the Islamic Emirate.

The Taliban’s Bans on Girls and Women

As thousands of Afghans seek to escape the country at Kabul airport, there’s one part of the population who knows this flight won’t be possible for everyone. Indeed, it’s the women and girls who are most threatened by this new regime. Furthermore, it’s highly likely that the same violations of their rights that were previously denounced by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) will be repeated.

These are as follows:

  • They’re forbidden to go to school or to work outside the home.
  • They can’t leave the house unless they’re accompanied by a male relative.
  • They can’t do business deals with men.
  • They’re forbidden to be seen by male doctors.
  • They must wear a burqa. No part of their body can be exposed.
  • They’re whipped and insulted if they don’t follow the Taliban’s rules.
  • They’re publicly whipped if they show their ankles.
  • They’ll be stoned if they have sex outside of marriage.
  • They’re forbidden from using cosmetics. In fact, if they paint their nails they’ll have their fingers cut off.
  • They aren’t allowed to wear high-heeled shoes.
  • They’re prohibited to laugh in public.
  • They can’t speak to any man in public without permission.
  • They’re prohibited from taking taxis or getting a driver’s license.
  • They’re prohibited from working or expressing themselves in public media such as television, radio, and the Internet.
  • No one is permitted to photograph or record girls and women.
  • Images of women are prohibited to be publicly shown.

“We ensure that there will be no violence against women,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. “No prejudice against women will be allowed, but Islamic values are our framework and must be upheld.”

image depicting how women and girls disappear in Afghanistan

History repeats itself: no one believes in the “new Taliban”

These days, the media shows images of what Afghanistan was like in the 70s. We were struck by a photo taken by Laurence Brun in 1972. In it, the women weren’t too different from those that we’d have found in any Western country. There were young women in miniskirts, laughing, with loose hair, high heels, going to work and study centers.

In fact, at the beginning of the 20th century, King Amanullah promoted women’s freedom by prohibiting forced marriages and promoting gender equality. In the 70s, universal suffrage was achieved and the country shone with the progress typical of any advanced country. However, as a result of several coups d’état and the Soviet occupation, everything changed.

In 1996, the Islamic State of Afghanistan was integrated and the reign of terror arrived. The women were subjected to Taliban and Sharia law. That darkness lasted until 2001. Now, twenty years later, this horror has returned. Women are confined in their homes and torn from public life before a West that watches impassively as history repeats itself.

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