For the last 20 years, women of Afghanistan have been encouraged to embrace their freedom and to pursue education, careers, and dreams. They have fought hard for their rights and equality and, although their social position remained fragile, their achievements have been outstanding. Women have been working as ambassadors, ministers, and members of the security forces. Gender equality has been becoming an important aspect of domestic laws and tens of thousands of girls have been getting an education, which represents a great change from almost no girls at school during the last Taliban rule.
Now, as Kabul has fallen to the Taliban, they are about to lose it all.
Dark days ahead for Afghan women
The narrative the Taliban have been putting forward is that their ideology is now more moderate and they want to preserve the progress that the country has made over the last two decades.
During a press conference that took place in Kabul on Tuesday, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said ‘We are going to allow women to work and study. We have got frameworks, of course. Women are going to be very active in the society but within the framework of Islam.’ He also added that ‘that ‘there will be no violence against women and no prejudice against them will be allowed.’
Sadly, however, it all is merely an act designed to facilitate their regaining control. His words seem hard to believe given that, as CNN reported, within less than three days of the Taliban taking over Kabul, women have disappeared from the streets.
Moreover, the beauty parlour’s posters of women wearing makeup and showing their hair are being covered with white paint and tens of female journalists have already been suspended indefinitely.
Even though even after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 many women continued to wear a burqa because of religious and cultural beliefs, millions decided to reject it and have been expressing their identity through clothes, make-up, or painted nails.
Every woman has a right to feel beautiful and choose how she looks, but now in Afghanistan full-body burqas will become compulsory again. During the last Taliban regime, if a woman disobeyed and showed her face in public, she risked inhumane punishments such as public lashings.
Women do not want to be passive victims
Under the Taliban rule last time, burqas were not the only limitation of women’s freedom. Women could only leave the house with a male chaperon and were banned from getting an education and working. They would also be forced into marriages with Taliban fighters.
Now, they are not ready to sacrifice their goals and ambitions nor do they agree to be deprived of their basic rights. In Kabul, a group of women showing incredible bravery organised a protest near the presidential palace, demanding social and political freedoms. Moreover, as an act of resistance, TOLO News, one of the country’s major media outlets, placed female presenters on screen again after they had been removed when the Taliban entered the capital city.
Still, the majority of Afghan women fear for their safety and choose to hide at home with their families or look for ways to escape the country. They know that provoking Taliban fighters or not obeying their rules could lead to them getting killed.
Some have hopes that the group has changed and is not going to completely remove women from society. Nevertheless, the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia is so radical that the future remains unsure. Activists say that a likely scenario is that they are going to be imposing restrictions on women gradually, slowly eroding all their rights.
The West is to blame
Trying to justify plunging Afghanistan into chaos, the US President, Joe Biden, claims that ‘The US’ mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building.’
And yet, when the US and its allies entered Afghanistan in 2001, they promised not only to fight against terrorism but also to establish democracy in the country and protect the rights of the Afghan people. That especially referred to women whose freedoms had been severely violated by the Taliban.
As their dreams and ambitions have come crashing down, it is no surprise that women of Afghanistan now feel betrayed and abandoned.
Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are expressing their solidarity with the Afghan people by sharing information on social media, raising funds, organising protests in major cities. Still, to be able to have a tangible impact and save innocent lives, political leaders also have to join the global movement to save Afghanistan.
As the Taliban advance and introduce new reforms, the international community should not abandon Afghan women and girls yet again.
About the author:
Katarzyna Rybarczyk is a Political Correspondent for Immigration Advice Service, an immigration law firm based in the UK but operating globally. Through her articles, she aims to raise awareness about security threats worldwide and the challenges facing communities living in low and middle-income countries.