In a country of war and widows, Afghan women prepare for a demolition of women’s rights in the finishing touches of a Taliban takeover.
The past 17 days has marked America’s bloody exit from its longest war as U.S. President Biden rapidly filed out over 120,000 U.S. citizens, citizens of fellow allies, and Afghan allies of the United States.
With every aircraft that took off, the looming threat of extremism inched closer as desperate locals chaotically clung to anything leaving the area. The final C-17 departed from Hamid Karzai International Airport on Monday, August 30th, 2021, and with that, hope for stability.
Taliban fighters closed in on Afghanistan’s major cities at an alarming, unexpected speed that shocked the U.S. military, international watchers, and Afghans alike.
The seemingly ubiquitous presence of the Taliban has created worldwide fear for the well-being of Afghan women, replaying traumatically the 1990 Taliban takeover where women were not allowed to go to school, banned from most professions, mostly confined to their homes, and forced to wear burqas.
“Women in Afghanistan are the most at danger or most at-risk population of the country,” said Fawzia Koofi as reported by NBC. Koofi is a women’s rights activist and member of the Afghan delegation that had been involved in negotiating peace with the Taliban before the U.S. military’s withdrawal. She notes the future for women in Afghanistan appears “dark,” and women feel “betrayed” by the U.S. withdrawal. Already, women in cities that have fallen under Taliban control “are like prisoners in [their] home,” according to a provincial government official in Afghanistan.
“We need the women as teachers, as healthcare workers, in children’s hospitals as doctors; we need the women to be able to work in society. We are, as yet, unclear in some areas if that’s going to be allowed,” said executive director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore. She told CNBC this was the agency’s “deepest concern.”
The 20 year occupation of Afghanistan by U.S. troops allowed women to push their agenda forward – an agenda that is now quickly being reversed by extremism.
President Biden declared America’s business concerning Afghanistan over in Mid-April. President Biden noted that it was now evident that the capabilities of the U.S. military and the billions of dollars spent were not enough to sustain a modern, stable democracy in Afghanistan. However, the presence of U.S. did provide the conditions stable enough for women’s rights to advance.
Women’s rights were able to advance enough to scare the Taliban.
Fawzia Koofi, went on to say that “criminals” the Taliban had freed from prisons to swell their ranks now also posed a threat, along with “those who [have been] upset with women becoming powerful in the last 20 years.”
The early successes of U.S. occupation included a pro-Western government, new schools, hospitals and public facilities. Thousands of girls once banned from education under the Taliban regime were then able to attend school. Women once forced in their home by the Taliban were able to go to college, join the workforce, and be elected in Parliament. An independent news media was created. Despite these advances, corruption remained a cornerstone of the government. Reconstruction money was stolen and the government proved unable to provide necessities for their people. Maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan reached the highest in the world as polls suggested 90% of women experienced abuse in their lifetime.
A key focus of the initial U.S. invasion was to improve the lives of Afghan women. On paper, this hailed a historical change. Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution guaranteed equal rights between men and women and provided quotes to ensure their political participation for the first time. In Kabul, women freely joined the army and police forces, trained as surgeons, judges and prosecutors, and worked as journalists, translators and television presenters. Change slowly crept up on Afghanistan.
Henrietta Fore shared, “In the past 20 years, we have had a very large gain in education, so we’ve tripled the number of schools,” she added. “We used to have 1 million children going to school [in Afghanistan]; now there are 10 million children, and more than 4 million are girls. We don’t want to go backwards.”
The fast takeover by the Taliban was accompanied by a range of restrictions on women’s dress, job opportunities, and women’s freedom of travel.
In the wake of a new Taliban government, Germany has halted development aid to Afghanistan which has been an essential pipeline for the country while Britain has made remarks that humanitarian aid could increase by 10%.
Contrary to promises of peace and respecting women’s rights offered by a Taliban spokesman, it is reported that violence and vengeance is ensuing.
Some Taliban-controlled areas have already imposed restrictions on women. Women are forced to wear burqas and are not allowed to leave the house without a male relative. Soldiers have forced families to give up unmarried women to marry their fighters. In Kabul, steps toward support of feminism have been reversed as images of women outside beauty parlors have been painted over or stripped off. Female teachers are no longer allowed to teach boys and many female journalists previously employed by the state are no longer allowed to go to work.
Older generations now reliving the trauma of a Taliban takeover expect the worst. Prior to 9/11/2001, the ultraconservative leadership that took over in the 90’s enforced severe restrictions and punishments on women – including public stoning and amputations. Women were forbidden to leave the house and denied formal education. Every factor of a woman’s life was censored and controlled.
The solution to this not only concerns the Taliban, but concerns every terrorist group that pushes an extremist agenda to the detriment of women and children. The severe sexual, mental, and physical abuse – as well as the limitations placed on women – is a cornerstone to Taliban rule that needs to be removed in order to shift the entire structure. The Taliban has covered Afghanistan in the blood of women in the name of extremist religious views. America has failed to stay true to their reputation of democracy and freedom, and their retreat will come at the price of abandoned Afghan women. Biden has left Afghan women in the hands of a historically torturous group because the nation did not reach the degree of democracy that was initially planned. The billions of dollars spent throughout this war has now gone to waste – every brittle step towards freedom, no matter how small, has now crumbled in the hands of killers. The progress in education, women in leadership, and the freedom of travel may now only be a chapter in Afghanistan’s history.
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