Fighting For Their Lives - What Is Happening To The Women Of Afghanistan

The Taliban’s advance across Afghanistan is presenting a grave threat to women's autonomy and even their lives in what is being described by the UN as a ‘massive humanitarian crisis’

By Hannah Connolly

16 August 2021

oday, newspapers around the world are fronted with the same story: the capture of Kabul at the hands of the Taliban and what this means for the future of Afghanistan and its people.

Foreign troops began their final withdrawal from Afghanistan in May of this year, following 20 years of allied occupation. The President of the United States Joe Biden has been widely criticised for the hasty removal of troops from what has become America’s longest ongoing conflict on foreign soil.

What the removal of foreign military aimed to leave behind was a western-style format of democracy, through billions of dollars spent in trying to reconstruct a country healing from two decades of war.

This was attempted through the creation of infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and public facilities. Yet, despite progressive changes the army and internal structuring of the country was beset with corruption and insufficient training. What was not expected, regardless of trepidation to the removal of troops, was the speed at which the Taliban insurgency would sweep across Afghanistan.

Who are the Taliban?

The Taliban, which translated from Pashto means ‘students’ first emerged in the 1990s in Northern Pakistan (which borders Afghanistan to the south and the east) following the withdrawal of soviet troops from Afghanistan in the 1980s.

It is widely believed that the Taliban movement appeared for the first time in religious seminaries - seminary meaning the education of students in scripture of theology and religious histories - largely paid for by Saudi Arabia.

The promise of the Taliban in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan was to restore peace and security and enforce their hardline version of Sharia, or Islamic law.

The Taliban Leadership operates with an internal power structure, at the helm is Malawi Hibatullah Akhundzada who holds the ultimate authority in political, religious and military affairs - akin to a president or a prime mister with the addition of supreme power over all decisions. Akhundzada is then supported by three 'Deputies' and this forms the top tier deciding powers. Running alongside this is the ‘Senior Judge’, Mullah Abdul Hakeem who oversees the Taliban’s judicial structure and leads the negotiation team, 'Doha'. 'Doha' meaning the political office of the Taliban, this forms the international outreach devision who directly deals with peace negotiant and representation to the global community at large. Added to this is the 'Leadership Council' or 'Rahbari Shura' which acts as the highest decision making authority and is made up for 26 members.

From 1995 onwards the Taliban began to expand their influence, capturing the province of Herat and capturing the capital of Kabul and overthrowing the then President Burhanuddin Rabbani. By 1998 the Taliban where in control of 90% of the country in a similar sweeping military operation being witnessed around the world now, before the end of Taliban control in 2001.

The Taliban have not developed a political wing that is separate from their military agenda and such is best defined as a movement and militant organisation.

“Two thirds of the population in the capital are under the age of 30, meaning most women there have never lived under Taliban occupation and mothers across the country fear for the future their daughters now face.”

Fighting for their lives, how the Taliban insurgance will effect Afghan women

From above, the streets of Afghanistan's capital Kabul now look like a giant patchwork quilt, the mismatched colours of cars, bumper-to-bumper as citizens attempt to flee. At banks, cash is running out as people try to withdraw all they have and at the airports people hang on to the wings and engines of outbound planes moving down runways in a desperate attempt to board.

According to Reuters, at least “5 people have been killed at Kabul airport,” as hundreds try to flee the capital. Meanwhile, the rest of the country finds itself plunged into uncertainty on the dawn of what many worry will be a bleak future under Taliban rule, particularly for women and children.

It is a similar scene at the country's borders with Iran to the west, Pakistan on the south and east and by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the North, with Iran setting up camps to facilitate refugees.

Around 11pm (GMT time) a spokesperson for the Taliban’s political office declared that the war in Afghanistan is now over and the type of rule and regime that is to follow will be laid out in due course. The spokesman, Mohammad Naeem said that no diplomatic body or any of its headquarters were targeted. The group has assured the international community it will provide safety for citizens and diplomatic missions. Yet, the declaration of safety is at odds with the first-hand accounts emerging from across the country.

This comes just hours after the presidential palace and indeed Kabul as a city was captured by the Taliban and after Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country bound for Tajikistan in order, in his own words, to “avoid bloodshed”.

During the course of the first Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan - which lasted from 1996 to 2001 - womens’ freedoms were brutally curtailed. From public lashings at the hands of the “moral police” for leaving the house not fully veiled, to long prison sentences for running away from abusive husbands after being forced to marry at a young age.

Following the collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban’s rapid seizure of most of the country, Afghan women are once again fearing for their safety and for the future of their hard-won freedoms.

Herat City, the country's third largest metropolis, located to the north west, was captured on the 14th August and word of restrictive measures have begun to emerge. Since the city fell, the Taliban circulated a notice declaring to citizens that the burqa was now mandatory, and male chaperones, known as ‘mahrams’ (guardians) must accompany women in public spaces.

After the fall of the last regime in 2001, where the wearing of a burqa was an enforced mandate, women were able to enact autonomous religious expression in the choice to wear or not to wear the burqa. This choice became emblematic of the dawn of a new age in which Afghan women were able to decide how they wished to express their beliefs and indeed of their ability to make choices at large.

‘“In the last 24 hours we have been confined to our homes, and death threatens us at every moment.”’

Reports from the ground suggest fear is mourning in Kabul. Two thirds of the capital’s population are under the age of 30, meaning most women there have never lived under Taliban occupation and mothers across the country fear for the future their daughters now face.

For example, in early July, Taliban insurgents began seizing territory from government forces across the country, in one instance it was reported that fighters from the group walked into a bank in Kandahar, to the south of Kabul, and ordered nine women to stop working immediately. They were then escorted by the military to their homes and ordered never to return, a male relative entitled to take up the job instead. The last time the Taliban enacted hardline militant control over the country women were not allowed to work at all and girls could not attend school. A similar incident took place just three days later.

Advertisements of women in wedding dresses in the capital have been painted over in the last 24 hours and in an article published by The Guardian, women journalists have been anonymously sharing their growing fears. “For many years I worked as a journalist to raise the voice of Afghans, especially Afghan women, but now our identity is being destroyed. In the last 24 hours we have been confined to our homes, and death threatens us at every moment.” shared one woman to the national newspaper.

Divorcees too face growing concerns as the Taliban's view on marriage is absolute, enforcing laws such as arranged marriages. With many women living in Kabul having established their own independent lives and businesses they are now, inadvertently, acting in direct opposition to the Taliban’s hardline ideologies that prohibit women from working and gaining an education.

Female students and professors are also being denied entry to the Herat University by Taliban militants and women judges are facing grave danger as it has been reported that the Taliban has gained intelligence on the women's whereabouts meaning they cannot escape.

The United Nations leaders have issued a warning that the events unfolding in Afghanistan will result in a “massive humanitarian crisis that will have a devastating effect on civilians, particularly women and children.”

President is Biden set to address the US and the world in a press conference regarding public outcry at the handling of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, in the wake of hundreds of protestors gathering outside in the Whitehouse in the past 24 hours.

This article was published using the latest news available as of 19:00 16/08/21, to follow the events as they unfold The Stack recommends The Guardians live timeline.

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