Women’s protests against the Taliban’s Islamist gender terror in Afghanistan are weakening. They have not been seen in the cities marching for their rights since the second week of September. It is as if the Taliban never really left them alone in the last 20 years.
The situation of the women in the urban areas is grim, as they are having to forget the freedom they began to enjoy for the last two decades. However, global attention is needed more in rural Afghanistan where the plight of women is worse than before.
Several groups of urban women in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif and other towns came out of their homes demanding their right to work, freedom of movement and protesting the Sharia rules the Taliban was already beginning to implement in the country after coming to power in August.
Initially, the protests were allowed. However, they must have tested the Taliban’s patience because gun-toting fighters soon began to beat up the protesters and dispersing them at gun-point. By September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban made it a point to send a message that the women better obey them as quickly as possible.
A group of Afghan women, wearing full-length robes and covering their faces, marched to Kabul University. They were accompanied by armed Taliban fighters who prevented the media personnel from talking to the women alone. The women were protesting against fellow women protesting against Taliban’s imposition of Sharia laws on them. They were openly supporting the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islamist rules.
Needless to say, they were forced to undertake the march and support the Taliban. After the march and the slogan-shouting, they were taken away. None of the women was able to talk to the media.
The brutalities since August 15 are now coming to light. Just a day before, on August 14, the Taliban shot dead a woman in Takhar province for not covering her face. The same day, according to a report in the East Asia Forum, “advertisements of women wearing wedding dresses were quickly painted over…A man.…seen using white paint to cover up the large images outside a beauty salon”.
The Taliban Cultural Commission, according to The Sun, has told “all Imams and Mullahs in captured areas should provide the Taliban with a list of girls above 15 and widows under 45 to be married to Taliban fighters”.
Dowry regulations are being set for Afghan girls who are to be married off to Taliban fighters or taken to Pakistan’s Waziristan, where they will be converted to Islam and reintegrated. The East Asia Forum’s investigative report said: “The domestic situation in Afghanistan for women is as grim as it was in the 1990s. Women experience various forms of violence — honour killings, rape, beatings, lashings, imposed prostitution, acid attacks, forced marriage and marriage to resolve tribal and land-related animosity. Violence against women during militant attacks has also become an accepted way of life in the war-ravaged country.”
Brookings in a report titled, “The fate of women’s rights in Afghanistan”, authored by its president John R. Allen and Senior Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown has highlighted the fate of rural Afghan women. These women have never been seen in public since the 1990s. The girls do not go to school and the women do not work. Their lot did not improve even when the Americans were there. The women’s presence was tolerated by the Taliban only for poppy cultivation and opium harvesting.
The Brookings report said: “Afghan women in rural areas—where an estimated 76 per cent of the country’s women live—experience the devastation of bloody and intensifying fighting between the Taliban and government forces and local militias.”
Most rural women, particularly in Pashtun areas but also among other rural minority ethnic groups, “are still fully dependent on men in their families for permission to access health care, attend school, and work”. Without any prodding from the Taliban, most Afghan women in rural areas are fully covered with the burqa and meekly marry whenever their fathers decide.
The report said: “Loss of husbands, brothers, and fathers to the fighting generates not only psychological trauma for them, but also fundamentally jeopardizes their economic survival and ability to go about everyday life. Widows and their children are thus highly vulnerable to a panoply of debilitating disruptions due to the loss of family men.”
A UN study revealed that even without the Taliban around, conservatism in the rural areas is extremely high. “Only 15 percent of Afghan men think women should be allowed to work outside of their home after marriage, and two thirds of men complain Afghan women now have too many rights.”
Worse, the study reported, “80 per cent of Afghan women experience domestic violence…Some 50 percent of women in Afghan prisons and 95 percent of such girls have been jailed for ‘moral crimes’ such as having sex outside of marriage…prosecuted for killing their brutally abusive husbands, , including in self-defense”.
Many conversative Afghan men share the Taliban view that the Afghan society should embrace the most regressive version of the Islamist laws that “call for reducing women’s rights and freedoms”.
What the Brookings report said stands true for Afghanistan today after the return of the Taliban: “On the ground today, Taliban rule varies significantly among local Taliban military commanders and shadow district governors and their views. In some places, it includes the same old brutalities, such as whipping women for sex outside of marriage, stoning them to death for certain offenses, and punishment for not wearing a burqa.”
The current situation is a rewind of the past.