It appears Afghan women have almost disappeared from public view throughout the country. After coming to power 2021 the Taliban government immediately announced restrictions on women and girls.
Women are not allowed to work in government sectors and girls can’t continue to study at secondary school and university. They are mandated what to wear and subject to severe restrictions when outside the home. Women are no longer allowed to go to gymnasiums, public parks, tourist sites and beauty parlours, which the government have shut down. The Taliban interpretation of Sharia law restricts human rights for women and the circle of Afghan women lives is becoming smaller day by day, limited to the four walls of their home.
What is Sharia law?
In Arabic, Sharia means “the clear, well-trodden path to water”. The structure of Sharia is based on the scripture of Islam derived from the Quran and Hadith sayings, and the deeds of the Prophet Mohammad. Muslim lives are governed by Sharia law.
Waheedullah Hashemi, a Taliban official close to regime’s leadership said, in a Reuter’s interview, “We have fought for almost 40 years to bring the Sharia law to Afghanistan. Sharia law does not allow men and women to get together or sit together under one roof.” He added, “Men and women cannot work together. That is clear. They are not allowed to come to our offices and work in our ministries.”
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been replaced by the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Afghan women raised their voices for their rights by protesting after the Taliban took over Kabul. Sadly many protests ended violently and the women’s voices silenced.
A turbulent path from a new found hope to darkness and despair
In 1973 Daoud Khan came in power after a coup d’etat and the Republic of Afghanistan was proclaimed. In addition to building schools and promoting education for all, Daoud also focused on women’s rights. However, Daoud failed in delivering economic and other social reforms and he was overthrown in the 1978 coup by the Soviet-backed People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).
At the request of the PDPA the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. In the war of liberation that followed, between Soviet Union and American-supported resistance groups, religious extremist gained power and the war eventually reduced Kabul city to rubble. Today’s hardships endured by Afghan women had its origins with this conflict as restrictions on women’s freedom were enforced mostly in Mujahidin-controlled rural areas.
In September 1996 the Taliban came into power along with their interpretation of Sharia law. Constraints on women and girls pushed Afghan women into the shadows. Women were not allowed to go out without their men. Harsh methods of punishment were inflicted on women caught without wearing a veil (Burqa) or exposing skin when in public. Women were punished in public with a whip. The number of lashes inflicted decided by the officials from the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice of the Islamic Emirate. Stoning women and men who commit adultery is another public punishment.
Between 2001 and August 2021, the presidencies of Hamid Karzai and Mohammad Ashraf Ghani spent two decades and hundreds of millions of US dollars to bring Afghan women back into society, and a return to gender equality. When the Taliban returned, after the US and its allies abandoned the country, Afghan women lost all hard earned rights and freedoms.
Women who escaped tyranny and abuse and those left behind
Aryana Sayeed established herself as singer and songwriter, gaining fame by regularly singing in concerts and festivals in Afghanistan and beyond. She is one the most famous female singers of all time, mostly Dari and Pashto Songs. Aryana Sayeed was in Kabul when the Taliban gained power in 2021 and shared her experience of escaping the Taliban in an interview with Reuters.
Shukria Barakzai, an Afghan politician, was holder of the 2004 International Editor of the Year award. She was appointed a member of Loya Jirga in 2003. Two years later she was elected to the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of Afghanistan National Assembly). She received numerous death threats for voicing her views on women and their rights. In 2014 she survived a suicide attack in Kabul that killed three people. Barakzai herself was among the 17 injured. This didn’t stop her. She is still raising her voice for Afghan women and their rights even after fleeing from Afghanistan before the fall of Kabul.
These are just two famous Afghan women of the hundreds who fled the country for their safety.
Just before the fall of Kabul every shop and beauty salons that showed women’s faces were painted or concealed. Later the Taliban gave them a month to shut down the beauty salons, saying that eyebrow-plucking or wearing wigs, among other things, are against Islamic rules. Afghanistan’s chamber of commerce said the closure of parlours lead to 60,000 people losing their income.
Under Sharia law women are no longer allowed to visit tourist sites such as Band-E Amir (the National Park of Afghanistan) or the beautiful and tranquil Paghman Valley. Women are banned from all parks and funfairs and can only travel with a male relative, again forced to wear Islamic Hijab or Burqa.
And what of the men?
One Afghan man who asked to remain anonymous said, “It’s hard to see women in this situation. They are not able to study, even can’t walk alone. I grow up seeing women working in all divisions but nowadays they are almost invisible.
“There are two kinds of men in the Afghan community. One who consensus with Taliban, who doesn’t support women and doesn’t accept the existence of women in the society. They don’t allow women to study and work. They think and always say that God has created women to give birth to our children and their rights are limited in the home. They don’t give value to women rights and always want them to be dependent on them.
“Second kind of men, their way of thinking towards women is the opposite of the first kind. They always think women are important, same as them to run the community. The creed of these men and efforts of these women brought them to politics, healthcare, education and arts, etc. Afghan women enjoyed their freedom [between] 2001 to 2021. Their happiness came to end by Taliban into power.”
Like Afghanistan itself, are the women and girls to be abandoned as well?
At a press conference Taliban spokesman Zabiualah Mujahid said “We are going to allow women to work and study within our frameworks.” He added, . “Women are going to be very active within our society.”
However, he didn’t mention when this will happen. No answers about dress codes and what rules are going to come into action for women. When asked, he did not say anything about the role of women in the country’s workforce.
Afghan women raised their voices by several ways but were silenced by the regime. Many activists fled Afghanistan but still try to do something for the rights of the women left behind. Afghan women achieved considerable progress in past two decades but now all that is naught. They continue live under harsh Taliban-imposed restrictions and bans.
Western governments abandoned Afghanistan. But the Afghan women and girls, who had their hopes, dreams and basic human rights ripped away, hope the people of the world haven’t abandoned them as well.