Karley Cicale, FISM News
As the Taliban reasserts its rule over Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops, the citizens of the country are bracing themselves for vast changes to their daily lives and routines. No one expected to see the capital of Kabul fall within a month, much less a week, but as the extremist fighters surrounded the city on Sunday, reality began to set in. While civilians jumped over fences in a desperate attempt to board planes and escape, the nearly 15 million women of Afghanistan who are left behind have nowhere to escape.
Under Taliban law, women are viewed as commodities and possessions, not intelligent individuals, and certainly not as equals to men. Due to the group’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, women are not even allowed to leave their homes without a male escort. Female doctors, shop owners, and financial workers who days ago lived a life of relative freedom, are now sentenced to virtual house arrest.
According to a US Department of State archive on the Taliban takeover in 1996, “The assault on the status of women began immediately after the Taliban took power in Kabul. The Taliban closed the women’s university and forced nearly all women to quit their jobs, closing down an important source of talent and expertise for the country. It restricted access to medical care for women, brutally enforced a restrictive dress code, and limited the ability of women to move about the city.”
Forced marriage, rape, and abduction are also condoned practices of the Taliban. Just last month, Taliban officials asked local religious leaders to compile a list of girls over 15 years old and widows under 45 for marrying Taliban fighters.
The Taliban is quickly moving to revert 20 years of progress in extending freedoms and opportunities to women. Since 2002, in cities under Afghan government control, millions of Afghan girls have gone to school and Afghan women have participated in public life, including holding political office, more than ever before in Afghanistan’s history. Yet even in these areas, the freedoms were fragile and insecurity, discrimination, corruption, and diminished funding threatened their sustainability. While the Taliban does not officially oppose educating women, in practice, most factions don’t allow it. Some factions don’t allow for the education of girls after puberty, while others oppose it completely.
Amid the recent charge of the Taliban, an Afghan woman who was a student in Kabul told how police were evacuating women from dormitories because the Taliban would beat women who do not wear burqas. She and her sisters had to hide their IDs, diplomas, and certificates, as these would be obvious indicators that they were educated women. Another woman shared that fear was running so high as rumors of the Taliban takeover circulated, that the price of burqas had risen tenfold as women rushed to buy them.
The extreme exclusion of women from either receiving or giving health care services, is a worry as well. Under the previous rule of the Taliban, women were removed from the workplace, including from acting as nurses and doctors. Hospitals were segregated by gender, and women were punished for leaving their houses alone without a male companion in attempts to take themselves or their children to the hospital.
The Department of State Archive even recorded an event of a husband being attacked in response to his attempt to take his wife to a hospital to give birth. She ended up delivering their child in the street. The one medical center for women in Kabul in 1997 had only 35 beds, no clean water, electricity, oxygen, or surgical and diagnostic equipment. It was only under furious international pressure that the Taliban relented and worked with the Red Cross to allow some supplies and female workers to attend to female patients, as male doctors are extremely limited in their permissions to treat women and can be punished for going beyond these bounds.
The Taliban has attempted to project an image that they are not as extreme as they were 20 years ago, but this is believed to simply be a façade as they seek to take over the country without interference. It also appears that the Biden administration has no intentions of changing their policy of full withdrawal, and there is little hope for foreign intervention to stop the radical Islamic group’s oppression of women.
It is impossible to truly empathize with the lives of the women who are once again trapped as prisoners under the rule of the Taliban. While there is little that individuals can do to help these women, for believers, let us commit to praying for the them as they now face unspeakable atrocities.