Women in Afghanistan fear return to the ‘dark days’ as Taliban re-imposes repressive laws

The stark rules based on the Islamic Sharia Law state that women have to always cover their faces, be accompanied by a male relative if leaving their homes, and cannot work or attend school.

“They will kill us. Women have no rights”, these are the words of a woman who landed in India from Kabul on Sunday, as the Taliban took control of the whole of Afghanistan, now declaring it as the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’.

Unlike her, who managed to seek refuge in India, over 18 million girls and women in the country now stare at a dark future built over their dashed hopes and dreams, as the Taliban starts issuing horrifying regressive diktats rolling back decades of progression made by women in the country.

It is a reminder of the dark past that women saw during the terrorist group’s reign in 1996-2001 when stark rules were imposed based on the Islamic Sharia Law – which meant women could not work, had to cover their faces in public, had to always be accompanied by a male relative if they wanted to leave their homes, and girls were banned from attending school.

The Taliban’s ‘Rules’ for Women:

  • Women should not be seen on the street unattended without a blood relative or a burka.
  • Since no man should hear a woman’s footsteps, high-heeled shoes should not be worn by women.
  • A woman’s voice should not be heard by a stranger when she is speaking loudly in public.
  • In order to prevent women from being seen from the street, all windows on the ground and first floors of residential buildings should be painted over or covered with a screen.
  • Women are prohibited from having their pictures taken, filmed, or displayed in newspapers or books or in stores, or at home.
  • To remove the word “women” from any place’s name.
  • Women are not allowed to appear on their balconies.
  • Women are prohibited from appearing on radio, television, or in any public gathering.
  • Women would be stoned to death if accused of adultery.

This dark past has now, unfortunately, become the new reality for the tens of thousands of Afghan women who live in areas recently captured by the Taliban who say the militant group has reimposed many of the repressive laws and retrograde policies that defined its previous rule. This is despite the group claiming that it has changed its stance on women after returning to power after nearly two decades, clearly proving that their statement cannot be taken at face value.

Over the past few weeks, Taliban leaders have issued an order to local religious leaders to provide them with a list of girls over the age of 15 and widows under the age of 45 for “marriage” with Taliban terrorists. This is not marriage, but sexual enslavement of women which is not just a war crime but a crime against humanity. What’s even more disgusting is that this is a ‘strategy’ used by the group to lure militants into joining the Taliban.

In the Takhar province, women are being forbidden from leaving their homes without a male escort. In a horrendous incident, girls riding home in a motorized rickshaw were stopped and lashed for wearing ‘revealing sandals’. In Kandahar, the Taliban entered bank offices and ordered women employees to leave and not return to their jobs. In parts of Faryab, the Taliban has banned shops from selling goods to unaccompanied women. In other areas under Taliban control, education has been allowed for girls only until the fourth grade. Women are also mandated to cover themselves in a hijab.

Zahra, a woman who grew up in a Taliban free Afghanistan, with tears in her eyes said, “I am in big shock. How can it be possible for me as a woman who has worked so hard and tried to learn and advance, to now have to hide myself and stay at home?”. Her eyes welled up as she thought of how she will not be able to return to work and that her 12-year-old sister would be unable to continue going to school. In the past, not complying with the Taliban’s directives had led to public humiliation or even execution.

The heart-wrenching crisis that women are facing in Afghanistan has once again shed light on the systematic oppression of women under Islamic fanaticism. Ironically, this violation of women’s rights by the Islamic extremist group has not been spoken up against by some of the most renowned self-proclaimed flagbearers of feminism in India.

Over the past decades, women in Afghanistan had made incremental but meaningful gains in what is still a deeply conservative, male-dominated society – women were attending schools, and had a place in the Parliament, government, and business. For these women, who spent years trying to break the shackles of oppression, it “feels like a bird who makes a nest, and helplessly watches others destroy it”.

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