By Rose Sandall
On August 15th 2021, after months of the Taliban gradually taking control of Afghanistan's territories, the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul. This is an alarming time for the entire country - in fact the entire world, but in particular for women, who suffer more acutely than any other under the heavy, power hungry hands of the Taliban.
After decades of progression in women's rights: gaining increased independence under the 1964 equality act and the subsequent reinforcement of the act in 2004 after the removal of the Taliban in 2001, this is a massive fallback and has potential to completely destroy those rights that have been fought to be built up.
In an article by CNN, it has been quoted that women are scared to go outside of their homes, with even more reporting increased fear when going to work in an office or public environment. Young girls now need a male chaperone to go to school and this antiquated practise extends to female teachers. There is a sense of anxiety and fear in all people in Afghanistan, worried for their future, especially that of the female population.
Whilst all suffer under the extreme regime enforced by the Taliban, female journalists are particularly at peril, with a woman reported to have received a phone call saying that ‘the Taliban are coming for her’. She is not alone in receiving such terrifying messages and threats. Despite the progress and positive steps taken in the equal representation of women in the media industry, women often still find themselves being the only one in the newsroom.
Rukhshana, a media company telling Afghan women’s stories - written by women, is proving to challenge the status quo: providing light at the end of the tunnel for aspiring female journalists. Having started in November 2020, they are determined to make significant changes to what has historically been an incredibly male dominated landscape. The platform gives women vital information about reproductive rights and gender discrimination. They have also made space for survivors of domestic violence and rape to share their stoires; not just the statistics. However, whilst strides in the right direction are being taken, Afghanistan remains an incredibly dangerous place for journalists to be working (according to a UN report), with the race in trying to evacuate Afghan media workers and their families. The future of Rukhshana hangs in the balance with the Taliban taking power. A project so inspiring and a source of hope for many women needs to be preserved, to aid women all over the country.
The panic across the country continues to ensue, as when the southern province of Ghazni was taken, families were terrified that their daughters, wives or sisters would be taken by the Taliban to another part of the country. The sheer desperation is evident as women have been reported to have taken their own lives instead of being led by the Taliban. They would demand that the woman cook and wash their clothes, forcing the woman to take on these heavily traditional roles.
Divorced women in Afghanistan are also under increased threat, as to be divorced remains enshrouded with huge social stigma, which involves many practical difficulties such as being unable to rent a flat, where male relatives are a prerequisite as guarantors. Divorced women have described themselves as being rejected by their families and communities, which puts them at particular peril. Many divorced women live in urban areas, so the recent advance into Kabul could lead to a terrifying fate for many.
Another atrocity experienced by divorcees is suffered through their children, who are given to the father’s side of the family when the children reach the age of five and above. Now, with the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, and its capital Kabul, a whole new challenge has arisen for these women. They will not be able to live their independent lives or even leave the house, as the Taliban in the past has enforced that women cannot leave their houses without male guardians (mahrams). Forced marriages is another terrifying practice that the Taliban have the potential to enforce, including that of the marriage to Taliban fighters often for young girls and widows.
As this atrocity against (wo-)mankind continues the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) estimated that nearly a million Afghans have been displaced over the past few months, of whom an estimated 70% are women and children. The trauma of when the Taliban attacked Afghan provinces in the 1990s is still incredibly present in those who were around to experience it. Women remembering the atrocities of the 1990s is perhaps why so many are trying to desperately flee the country. They do not want to be subject to this kind of abuse again. But as US troops removed themselves from the scene, and the rest of the world quickly followed suit, it begs a damning question:
At what point will the people of Afghanistan - particularly those women struggling - find peace from war and the Taliban?