Under the Taliban regime, Afghan women are facing growing hostility and restrictions, but they continue to resist.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a vivid debate among Afghans on which prominent individual from among our women compatriots deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Some have suggested women who held official positions before the Taliban takeover of Kabul in 2021. Others have supported women’s rights activists in exile.
Still others have named Fatima Amiri, a 17-year-old girl who survived the September 30th bombing of the Kaj Educational Center in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood. The attack killed dozens of students, mostly girls, who had gathered at the private school to take a mock test for the Kankor exam, which is needed to enter public universities in Afghanistan.
Notwithstanding being traumatised, suffering from serious injury and mourning the loss of her classmates, she took the Kankor exam and scored above 85 percent, which made her eligible to study her favourite subject, computer science, at Kabul University – something she is now barred from doing. Indeed, Fatima has emerged as a symbol of women and girls’ struggle for their rights under the Taliban regime.
Since the Taliban took over Kabul, its government has imposed various restrictions on women. Afghan girls have been barred from going to high school and university, and even private educational institutions. Afghan women have been banned from going to parks, gyms, and other public places and from working in nongovernmental organisations and certain government institutions. They are also not allowed to travel alone and have to wear a head-to-toe covering in public.
As a result, places in Kabul that used to bustle with women and girls are now almost completely dominated by men. Many coffee shops that were the favourite hangout spots for girls and women have had to close down, as they have lost many of their customers. Parks no longer enjoy crowds, as men cannot go there with their families or girlfriends, and many beauty parlours ran out of business as women are reluctant to visit them.
Afghan girls and women have resisted the injustice of being stripped of their rights. However, the Taliban authorities have responded with an increasingly harsh crackdown, and some of the protesters and activists have been arrested and imprisoned. One activist was arrested in November last year after she tried to launch a women’s rights movement. She was detained for 40 days and was traumatised by it, and had to take medicine and receive psychological care. She said the world is unwilling to support Afghan girls and their struggle, and only issues empty condemnations. In her view, the international reactions to Iranian women’s protests were much more powerful and visible.
Even so, girls and young women have started flocking to secret schools led by courageous teachers. Others have joined online classes. Women have also not given up on employment. Despite restrictions and harassment, women continue to run their own businesses – such as beauty parlours and cosmetics stores – and some even work as street vendors. Women also continue to work as nurses and doctors in hospitals and teachers at elementary schools.
Afghan women abroad also contribute to the struggle. A number of activists, journalists and former officials who fled the country work tirelessly to keep the Afghan women’s cause on the international agenda. They speak up with incredible bravery, resilience and dignity about the imprisonment and torture Afghan women have faced and challenge the Taliban’s claims that its decision to restrict women is based on religious considerations. This pressure is contributing to the continuing international reluctance to recognise the Taliban government and normalise relations with it. The world needs to recognise these women and girls’ courage and support them in their fight. They more than deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.
SOURCE: Aljazeera.com, by Hujjatullah Zia, 19 March 2023 + PHOTO: Protest against the ban on university education for women, Kabul, 22 December 2022 [AP]