The Taliban’s rapid-fire advance through Afghanistan has left women and girls, a whole generation of whom have grown up with rights and freedoms, among the most vulnerable. Now they stand to lose those hard-won gains as the Taliban look poised to march on Kabul.
As the Taliban continue their dramatic sweep through Afghanistan’s biggest cities and provincial areas, with two-thirds of the country now under their control and the capital Kabul in their sights, women and girls are among the most vulnerable.
Afghan women have been targeted for speaking out against attacks by the Taliban or simply for holding positions of authority.
Since the start of 2021, civilian deaths have risen by almost 50 percent with more women and children killed and wounded in Afghanistan than in the first six months of any year since records began in 2009, the UN reported in July.
The Afghan government has blamed most targeted killings on the Taliban, who deny carrying out assassinations.
If the Islamist insurgents conquer the capital, many fear a disintegration of women’s rights, with the Taliban overturning the freedoms gained during the 20 years since US-led forces helped oversee the country’s transition to democracy.
“The Taliban will regress freedom at all levels and that is what we are fighting against,” an Afghan government spokesperson told Reuters on August 13.
“Women and children are suffering the most and our forces are trying to save democracy. The world should understand and help us.”
‘Our world collapses’
As city after city falls into the hands of Islamist insurgents, those pleas for help may be too late. Numerous reports have emerged of the Taliban going door-to-door, drafting lists of women and girls aged between 12 and 45 years who are then forced to marry Islamist fighters. Women are being told they cannot leave home without a male escort, can no longer work or study or freely choose the clothes they want to wear. Schools, too, are being closed.
For a whole generation of Afghan women who entered public life – the lawmakers, journalists, local governors, doctors, nurses, teachers and public administrators – there’s much to lose. While they strove, working alongside male colleagues and in communities unused to seeing women in positions of authority, to help build a democratically-run civil society, they also hoped to open up opportunities for later generations of women to succeed them.
Zahra, 26, is among the many young women who fear their education and ambitions will come to nothing. She watched Thursday evening as the Taliban flooded her hometown of Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city, and hoisted their white flags emblazoned with an Islamic declaration of faith.
“I am in big shock,” said Zahra, who works for a non-profit organisation to raise awareness for women, told AP. “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 the office a month ago, as the Taliban neared, and began working remotely from home. But since Thursday she has been unable to work.
Many other educated Afghan women have taken to social media to appeal for help and express their frustration.
When the fundamentalist group ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 they imposed Sharia law, a strict interpretation of Islamic law which meant women could not work, girls were banned from attending school and women had to cover their faces in public and always be accompanied by a male relative if they wanted to leave their homes.
Women who broke the rules sometimes suffered humiliation and public beatings by the Taliban’s religious police. The Taliban also carried out public executions, chopped off the hands of thieves and stoned women accused of adultery.
Ghani on Saturday broke days of silence to address his fellow citizens, saying his main responsibility now was to prevent any more destruction and instability.
But Ghani’s message will ring hollow for Afghan women who are already witnessing reprisals and a reversal of freedoms they once enjoyed.
(Excerpt from an article written by Nicole Trian for France24)