On 15 August 2021, the Taliban seized the Afghan capital, Kabul, and took control of the country. Although the Taliban made claims of "moderation" in order to assert themselves to the international community and soften the blow, the web of darkness they wove affected the lives of women and girls in particular.
In the space of a year, women have been deprived of many of their rights; they have been dismissed from their jobs, banned from public spaces, not allowed to go to school, forced to wear black burqas... As new restrictions are added every day, women are not remaining silent as their lives are taken away.
The Revolutionary Women's Union of Afghanistan (RAWA), which has been fighting for women's rights since 1972, spoke to Ekmek ve Gül about the experiences of Afghan women after the Taliban takeover, the risk of restrictions on women, and the extent of the struggle of Afghan women. Mariam* from RAWA says that banning girls' education and preventing women from working means preventing women from participating in daily life, making them dependent on the men in their families, and asks this question: How can illiterate women know their rights and defend them?
WOMEN ARE SLOWLY BEING ELIMINATED FROM SOCIETY
The Taliban have given various so-called assurances to the international community about "not being like before" and "respecting the rights of women". But the restrictions on women's rights over the past year suggest otherwise. What has changed for women in Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of the country?
Whether under the US occupation, the NATO occupation or today, the situation for Afghan women has never been very good. Unfortunately, it is a part of the world where you can see different forms of abuse and torture. Women suffer in different ways. We live in a poor country, a disastrous country with the largest number of refugees, the largest number of uneducated and illiterate women and men. People in general, but women in particular, face many problems.
Let's look at what has happened in the last year. Everything has changed a lot. We could see that very basic, elementary rights women had started to have, collapsed. We believe that it was because of the US occupation the Taliban reemerged and Islamic fundamentalism became stronger. As soon as these religious fanatics took power, they start announcing restrictions on women, implementing more limits in everyday life of women.
First thing they did that they sent all those women, who work, back home. They also banned any kind of education of girls; this is the most horrific change for the everyday life of people. Now women, who were the breadwinners, are not allowed to work.
You probably can feel the pain of mothers who are not allowed to send their daughters to school just because of their gender, only because they are girls. It is hard to imagine the psychological pressure these young teenager girls are feeling. They are slowly eliminated from the society; their dignity, their personality has been taken from them.
Women also forced to use long black -even the color is designated- dresses. They are not allowed to use public transports, not allowed to travel by themselves. They should always be accompanied by a close male relative. All these prevent women from having access to everyday life.
Life for women has turned upside down. We are not talking about equal rights, we are not talking about social changes, political role of the women in society. We are talking about the very basic: breathing, moving, having access to healthcare, having access to education. Unfortunately, women are deprived of these human rights today.
IF A WOMAN IS NOT EDUCATED…
Girls are no longer allowed to go to school in Afghanistan. What do you think the consequences will be for girls?
Religious fanatics and the medieval mindset created like the Taliban will not have a good future under these conditions. In any society if women do not get education, do not be able to work, the economy will not improve. The development of the society will not be possible without the role of women.
A very dangerous future awaits young girls. Many psychological problems have already started among young girls because they cannot leave their homes and do not feel safe. All the dreams that they want to achieve - to become lawyers, doctors, scientists - are gone with the power of the Taliban.
We will be left alone, as a backward and deprived nation. The biggest risk or danger is that in the future there will be no opposition to the Taliban, to the torture and brutality of the different regimes. There will be no opposition to discrimination against women.
If a woman is not educated, how can she know about her rights?
How can they defend their rights?
How can they change and improve their cultural conditions?
Development, stability, peace can come with the role of women. It is not only about their physical appearance in society, but also about being educated, open-minded, active like men.
WOMEN HAVE GOT THE POWER
We see young girls protesting in the streets for their education rights. They are studying in secret classrooms to get education. We see these protests as much as possible in the international press. But how big is the women's movement, the women's struggle in Afghanistan today? Even under this big pressure, can women organise themselves and take part in the struggle for their rights?
Generally speaking, there is not a very strong struggle against Taliban nowadays going on in Afghanistan unfortunately. There is not any organized, mobilized movement against Taliban taking place. Mostly the protest of women is self-organized and self-started reactions. Because protesters were mostly employees, they were teachers, they were nurses, they were health workers who wanted to defend their rights. And also they felt the economic pressure when they lose their jobs. Those defending girls' right to education took to the streets. This is how they came in the streets and speak out against Taliban.
Definitely because women suffering more, they are stronger so their resistance against Taliban and their reaction too. They can not accept to be kept like prisoners. They can not be kept in chains. To move forward, to defend; they need to give the sacrifice, to come up in the streets, to find a way to educate their daughters, to find a way to mobilize and organize for resisting against Taliban.
Photo: Screenshot from the video posted on @HamzaDawar0 twitter account
And this was proven by what we saw in the first period of the Taliban and compared to what is happening today. In 1996, when the Taliban took over, there was no protest against them, no protest among women. They were completely silenced. Most of the people thought only of escaping the country and going to neighbouring countries.
Now, we see that women have changed, women have got the power, the understanding of without fighting against Taliban they will be eliminated completely.
The resistance of women do not come only in forms of protesting and demonstration. But also the way they are organizing secret home base classes, they are organizing job opportunities for women even some other forms of resistance.
In the capital Kabul, you can see many women who try not to obey the rules announced by the Taliban. For example, they don't wear black dresses. Or they don't wear the long dresses ordered by the Taliban. They try to use public transport, even if they have to pay a bit more than they would for a taxi. Many women keep their jobs even though they are very risky and have been warned and threatened to resign. They keep their jobs because they think "this is our life and this is the least we can do".
Afghan people, men and women do not want to accept Taliban, do not want to obey to their regime.
PROPERTY OF THE HUSBAND, SERVANT OF THE CHILD
What obstacles do women face when they demonstrate or speak out against the Taliban?
We are living in a society where women are not counted as independent human beings. They are totally under control of male relatives; their father, their brother, their husband. They are property of their husband and later like a servant of their male children. But of course, educated men and women have a different mentality. They have a different perspective towards women’s role in the society. They definitely know if you want to change the situation, if you want to get rid of poverty, ongoing oppression, it is only possible with the education of women, giving rights to women protecting them, promoting them. This is not very easy. It needs a lot of energy. It is a long way we are going.
We always say that Afghan women not only suffer from imperialist invasions, occupations, fundamentalist domination but also suffering from the feudal and patriarchal system which is like a strong chain. That is the reason RAWA as an independent political group of women immerged.
IRAN'S VICTORY WILL HAVE A GREAT IMPACT ON AFGHANISTAN
The movement that started in Iran with the reactions to the murder of Mahsa Amini by the morality police has spread throughout the country, engulfing universities, high schools, factories and streets. It has been going on for more than 3 months without letting up. How do the protests in Iran affect Afghan women and how do they discuss it?
Especially for women activists who believe in an anti-fundamentalist, anti-imperialist, anti-American struggle, what is happening in Iran is encouraging and inspiring. Especially for us as RAWA because we as an organization always promoted what we have learned from Iran, from Kurdish women. We always thought that women’s fight for justice and equal rights is connected all over the world even if it is happening far away from our country.
But Iran is very close to us. It touches our heart when we see women are taking the streets and chanting slogans against the Islamic regime of Iran and against the force. As a neighbor who shares the same language, the same kind of feeling and experience of fundamentalist and religious regimes we see that women in Iran are in a much more progress, they are organized, well-educated, and somehow being deeply involved in politics.
We believe, we should learn from Iranian sisters, Kurdish sisters. During the demonstration that we had in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul as a solidarity act with Iranian uprisings, the main slogan was “What is happening today in Iran, tomorrow should happen in Afghanistan.” This is something really encouraging and we deeply hope that this struggle succeeds. The victory in Iran will have a deep effect on Afghanistan. Not only it makes us emotionally stronger but also historically it is a very important lesson for us. It definitely stops the current support the Iranian regime is giving to some of fundamentalists such as Taliban. We can end fundamentalism and give the confidence to the world especially to the people of Afghanistan. Fundamentalism can be defeated if people all unite and all uprise against it.
WITHOUT POLITICAL STRUGGLE, NOTHING CAN END THE DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN
What kind of struggle are you calling for among Afghan women? How do you think the fight against the Taliban will be organised?
Awareness, education, empowerment and confidence of women are very important. We live in a very conservative society where the absolute majority of women are not educated. They are considered the property of the men in the family. They are not allowed to decide on the basic things in life. They are totally dependent on the male members of the family. So encouraging a number of women to get an education has changed a lot. Not only does it reduce the amount of domestic violence, but it also empowers women to decide for themselves and choose the path they want. Of course, development and peace are things that every woman want. And in such conditions what we are doing? Educating women in secret home base classes, raising their awareness, bringing them together to be part of especially the political fight. Because there are some NGO’s some organizations, some so called women’s right groups becoming very popular by the support of the western media. But for us that it is very important that women should consider only with the political changes and political fight the rights can be achieved. Without such a political fight, nothing can bring an end to the discrimination against women and all minorities in our society.
* Mariam does not use her real name for her safety.
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