Afghanistan is a country in Asia covering 647,500 km2 with a population of about 30,419,928 according to the July 2012 census. Afghanistan is a landlocked country that is boarded by Iran in the west, China in the far northeast, Pakistan in the east and south and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan on the north. The country has a rugged terrain with various tribal, religious and ethnic groups. The CIA reports that the country has a rich culture and tradition. However, very little is said of the women who live in Afghanistan; their daily lives. In Afghanistan, women are usually an oppressed lot under the repressive Taliban regime. The aim of this paper is to highlight the status of women under the oppressive Taliban regime and how the women and society in general is fighting this oppression.
Oppression of Women
Women in Afghanistan have been under an oppressive regime, the Taliban government, for many years. The impact of the Taliban restrictions virtually denied women their rights as human beings. Taliban is a group of people who in 1994 formed the Afghan government and took the approach of interpreting the Islamic teachings believing in strict Islamic rules. According to the group, men should have a longer beard, people should not listen to music, and women not permitted to do anything other than staying at home, cleaning the house and watching the children. Although the Taliban limited freedom for both males and females, females suffered most as there were more restrictive rules regarding on how they behave and what they were supposed to do. For example women prohibited to venture outside of their homes unless they were accompanied by their males relatives. Any resistance to the Taliban rules means a cruel punishment including death (Lacayo, 2001).
Since the Taliban took over in 1996, they imposed very strict rules that mostly affected women and their lives. The Taliban decided to make women not just obedient to its repressive regime but just nonexistent and invisible. The regime almost succeeded for about five years. The Taliban barred the women from any sort of employment save for some small scale jobs that were dedicated to the women like the healthcare jobs. Television stations in the country featured only male presenters. This is because the society in Afghanistan is tribal and very conservative. Here, women are relegated to small subservient roles. The Taliban police helped this regime to mete different punishments to women who could not stick to the rules. This included beating the women in the streets anytime they were caught in a ‘mistake’ (Lacayo, 2001).
The Order Requiring All Women to Wear the Burka
To most people, the most basic symbol of Taliban’s oppression was requiring all the women to wear the burka. Although most women 9especially in the villages) indicated that they wore it willingly, learned women from the however indicate that they loath the burka. The women are not allowed to show their faces when with the company of a male visitor; they are supposed to turn to the other side till the visitor leaves. The women here receive no formal education. For the few who may join elementary school, they are quickly married away to older men. Even in school, the women are taught on how to be a good wife, a good mother and how to take good care of their husbands; according to the Koran. A woman who was interviewed said that her most important work was to teach her daughters on how to make their respective husbands comfortable. She concludes this is important because if the life of her husband is not comfortable, then her life is hell. Another woman laments that if he disobeys her husband, then she will be beaten because, according to the Koran, the husband can control his wife as he wants. She says that she was once hit on the chest and was unable to breastfeed her young one for a whole week (Merali, 2006).
Basically, this has been a routine brutalization of women in Afghanistan. Soldiers are ‘allowed’ to rape women and nothing can be done. In such a case, the women are meant to lie that nothing of the sort happened; the women here believe that not reporting rape cases is the best way for a woman to cope. In any case, the society here allows men to marry several young wives even in old age, some of whom are raped (even by relatives). The Taliban militia was allowed to the offenders on the spot. An example is women being beaten because an inch of their ankle was exposed, beaten if they are found to move within without a satisfactory explanation to the Taliban or a woman beaten if she lets her face be shown even by mistake.
The following were either declared “unclean” or were totally banned by the ministry of Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Afghanistan:
Women were denied speaking or laughing loudly,
Women were prohibited showing their ankles.
Women were prohibited attending school
Women were prohibited to work (save for few doctors and nurses)
Women were prohibited to ride cars, bicycles, or motorcycles
Women were prohibited leaving home unless accompanied by a male relative
Women were prohibited to directly speak to males who they were not related to
Women were prohibited wearing makeup or shoes that click (Lacayo, 2001).
According to Mulrine (2001), different women have gone through different harrowing experience under the Afghan regime. She gives a few examples of these experiences: Laila*, 30 years old, former medical school student was restrained to her home by the Taliban forbidding her to go to school or walk outside without male escort, covering their body from head to toe. She then began teaching her neighbor’s daughter who were also confined to the house. After sometime the number grew to about 45 children. When the Taliban discovered her ‘school’, they beat her up in front of the children and threatened her that they will kill her if she repeated the ‘mistake.’ The girls were also threatened to be burned alive if they ever came to the school (Mulrine, 2001). Another story of Stori, 22, who was strangled to death for giving birth to another burdensome girl, is like a scripted movie. After being raped by her relative, 19 year old Gulnaz was jailed for adultery. Another woman Sahar, just at 15 years, was confined to a basement bathroom where her husband had kept her for about six months always burning her with cigarettes and pulling her fingernails (Mulrine, A. (2001). Stories like this only help reinforce what we already know; women in Afghanistan are oppressed beyond words.
Addressing the Oppression
Even though the Taliban was defeated, the life of the Afghan woman has not changed so much as the women have remained in vexed position. This is because the forces that took away or are intending to take the Taliban forces are neither friendly to the women. In the Northern Alliance, there is a split between conservative religious people and western-minded technocrats. Technocrats often insist that where there Alliance’s presence is felt, women go to school and that the Alliance supports women joining the government. However, most of these efforts are usually thwarted by conservative males in Afghanistan including the Alliance president, a burka proponent. This shows that there are mixed signals to women empowerment in Kabul. Women however seem to realize their rights and are taking to street demonstrations to ensure that their cries are heard. For example, when a movie theater re-opened in Kabul, women were not admitted and they did a small demonstration marching to the UN headquarters in Kabul. Although the women were blocked by police, this shows that they have started to realize their rights and are trying to make their voice heard (Lacayo, 2001).
This has not gone unnoticed by the world powers as former US president George Bush and his British counterpart Tony Blair opened a public relations assault to point out the Taliban oppression of women. This was a signal to the new government that there is a problem (oppression of women) and the problem needed an urgent solution. The Bush administration asked the Afghan government to return to law women’s equal status a non-negotiable issue. However, it is important to note that Afghanistan as a country is very resistant to foreign interference and very hard to abandon tribal codes that has existed in the country for decades. Thus, progress is likely to be at snail pace especially outside the town where we have large number of uneducated people (Lewis, 2012). The US and British troops in Afghanistan helping the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban government has been a blessing in disguise to the Afghan women. There is hope of being realized as a human being again.
The women in Afghanistan have gone through unimaginable suffering in the hands of armed men controlling Afghan Local Police. A rights activist, Frogh, translated to mean light, comprises Kabul university students worked tirelessly to face the government and compel it to identify and arrest the culprits as well as hand the case to the office of the Attorney General of Kabul to ensure women who had been raped had their justice. Sometimes these few activists had to come together and involve women organizations as well as any other activist that would be courageous to stand for women to organize a peaceful rally. This group then had to match to the President’s office while brandishing banners and posters with anti- women oppression slogans on them. Through the rallies, the governor of Parwan was out to look for the culprits and the President also condemned the incident (Towards the light, 2012).
The women in Afghanistan have collected themselves from the ashes and made their way into the High Peace Council through which they got the courage to visit the commander of the armed opposition group. In reaching out for help internationally, three women accompanied by prominent politicians, business tycoons as well as those from NGO’s sat together with Obama administration and Congress senior members to discuss their peace possibility with the Taliban. Wrong international policies such as OBL should be avoided. There is strong demand to clean up of the police department for sleeping on the job. They don’t prevent serious oppressions against women but after the ordeal, they are quick to promise that investigations are underway (Towards the light, 2012).
Personally, these kinds of stories are not only sickening but also demoralizing. When fellow human beings are treated like second hand citizens with no rights at all; pushing our sisters, mothers and women to the lowest form of living is truly sad. By using my blog, I will be at a position to inform a larger part of our society on what is happening in Afghanistan. Women also need to be empowered by the society; after all they are our mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, and wives.