"No one cares about us because we were born in Afghanistan."
"We're going to die in history."
- Afghan girl's despair at the Taliban rule -
“Is this really the 21st century?” People running desperately toward aircraft, people hanging upside down on the stairs in an attempt to board an aircraft, people clinging to an aircraft's wheels as it takes off...
Crowds rushed into the Kabul Airport to flee the country after the Islamic armed group Taliban reclaimed control of Afghanistan. Afghans who had been going about their daily lives were thrown into battlefields rife with violence and fear.
People all over the world witnessed how easily modern civilization could devolve into an anti-civilized and violent situation as they found the urgent scenes of the Afghan exodus more compelling than a movie.
The two youths killed in a take-off crash of a transport plane were ordinary Afghan boys aged 16 and 17. They were brothers who supported their mother by selling fruits in the market in Kabul.
Even now, 38 million Afghans fear having to choose a perilous escape route.
And the reality imposed on the weak and women in need of protection among them is as perilous as standing on the edge of a knife.
Who Are the Taliban?
In Arabic, Taliban means "students." The Arabic word "Talib," which means "student," is combined with the Pashtun plural suffix "an"; in this case, "student" refers to a seminary student studying in a madrasa, a boarding school that teaches Islam.
What caused a group of theological students studying God's teachings to become ruthless? To understand this, we need to turn the clock back 40 years and look at developments since then.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the US-trained and supported mujahedin (warriors) to fight the Soviets. Theological students were trained to be anti-Soviet warriors in Pashtun, southern Afghanistan.
The Taliban was founded in 1994 in Kandahar, Afghanistan's southernmost province. From 1996 to 2001, they controlled roughly three-quarters of Afghanistan under the leadership of Muhammad Omar.
The country with the worst women's rights record in the world
Women and minorities bore the brunt of the Taliban's atrocities during their five-year reign. During this time, Afghan women were unable to obtain an education, find work, or go out without male protection, and they were barred from holding any public office. In the face of the cruel reality of not being guaranteed basic human rights, women helplessly endured ruthless violence.
▲ World Economic Forum Report:
'Global Gender Gap Report 2021'
Women in Afghanistan have the lowest social status in the world as of 2021.
According to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2021, Afghanistan ranked 156th out of 156 countries on the gender equality index.
It wasn't always like this. In fact, in the 1960s and 1970s, Afghans enjoyed a free atmosphere within Islamic society, and women openly walked around Kabul in miniskirts. However, with the Taliban in power, women's human rights deteriorated to a pre-modern level.
▲ UNESCO Statistical Institute data:
‘Afghanistan's education registration rates, women (reference data in September 2020)’.
The Taliban barred Afghan females from going out without being escorted by a male relative, going to school, or working.
In UNESCO's "Afghanistan Education Institution Registration Rate, Women" graph, there is a break beginning in 1996. This means that education for females was halted entirely for a time.
Since 2001, when the Taliban stepped down and a different Afghan government was established, the graph has risen dramatically, restoring female educational opportunities. In 2018, approximately 83 percent of school-age Afghan females were enrolled in educational institutions.
However, due to the Taliban's reign, the graph is expected to plummet once more.
Women were labeled as evil under common law.
What is the Taliban's motivation for oppressing females? The foundations are based on Pashtunwali, Deovanni, and Sharia Law.
Pashtunwali, the Taliban’s main pillar, is the code of honor of the Pashtun people that values the following virtues in a Pashtun man: hospitality, protection, honor, and bravery.
The Taliban interprets Islamic law based on Pashtunwali, but the Pashtunwali view is overwhelmingly male-centered, with women regarded as evil beings.
According to Pashtunwali, women are completely owned by men and are merely tools for second-generation production.
Deobandi is an Islamic revivalist movement that occurred in India following British colonial rule. Afghanistan, as a neighboring country, was heavily influenced by the Deobandi concept, which completely excludes women from public spaces.
3. Sharia law
Sharia law is a way of life that all Muslims must adhere to, including prayer, fasting, and charitable contributions to the poor. However, if Sharia law is interpreted punitively, it can be applied more brutally to women than any other legal system in the world. The following are the main characteristics of Sharia law:
- Extreme punishment: Harsh physical punishments seen only in medieval society, such as amputating hands for theft and stoning women to death for adultery.
- Extreme sexism: Sharia law has been revised by the Taliban to make women and non-Muslims increasingly vulnerable. As a result, even if a woman has been beaten or sexually assaulted, it is difficult for her to prove that she has been victimized.
Under Taliban rule
A woman's life is miserable
▲ Women wearing miniskirts and walking freely on the streets in the 1970s, and women covered their whole bodies with burka under the Taliban.
According to a Human Rights Watch report published in 2020, brutal corporal punishment, including extreme oppression and the suppression of freedom of religion, expression, and education, was used on Afghan women during the Taliban's rule.
Directly to Human Rights Watch: "Taleban-controlled Afghanistan's education, social restrictions, and justice (2020)".
A report on Afghanistan's Education, Social Restrictions, and Justice categorize the Taliban's oppression of Afghan women in four areas.
When the Taliban took power in 1996, laws prohibiting girls over the age of eight from attending school were enacted.
As a result, in Kabul alone, 106,256 girls and 8,000 female college students were expelled, and 63 schools were closed. Women who desired an education had no choice but to attend underground schools in secret, risking execution if discovered.
The Taliban outlawed all employment of women on September 30, 1996.
The number of women fired totaled 7,793. Many women who had had jobs were forced to beg for money on the streets.
When women were examined by a male doctor, the Taliban required them to be fully clothed. This hampered a full examination and treatment, even if a woman went to a small hospital with a female doctor.
Furthermore, women's mental health was jeopardized by forced confinement and social isolation. A survey of 160 women revealed that 97 percent had severe depression and 71 percent had poor physical health.
Extreme violence was used as a form of punishment under Sharia law. Women who violated Sharia law faced public repercussions such as public beatings.
| Cases of female punishment under the Taliban.
○ In October 1996, the tip of a woman's thumb was amputated because she had painted her nails.
○ In 1999, a mother with seven children was accused of murdering her husband at the Kabul Gaji Sports Stadium and was executed in front of 30,000 spectators; she was punished instead of her daughter, who was strongly suspected of the crime.
○ When a woman was discovered running an unofficial school in her apartment, the children were beaten and the women were thrown down the stairs.
| Restrictions on women under the Taliban.
○ Women cannot walk down the street unless they are accompanied by a male blood relative or are wearing a burka.
○ Men should not have to hear the footsteps of a woman, so women should not wear high-heeled shoes.
○ Women should not speak loudly in public because strangers should not be able to hear the voices of a women.
○ To prevent women from being seen on the street, the windows on the ground and first floors of all residential buildings should be painted or shuttered.
○ All place names that contain the word 'female' should be modified; 'Women's Garden,' for example, was renamed 'Spring Garden.'
Struggling to be human
How to eliminate violence against women
Following the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, various efforts were made in Afghanistan to promote women's rights.
It was a difficult battle, but a number of non-governmental organizations and government agencies attempted to reform Afghan laws so they guarantee women's rights, which resulted in the enactment of the EVAW law (Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women) in August 2008.
This was the first law in Afghan history to criminalize violence against women, outlawing 22 violent acts against women, including rape, assault, forced marriage, prohibition on property acquisition, and denial of employment and educational opportunities.
straight to Human Rights Watch:
"Afghanistan's Enforcement of the Act on the Elimination of Violence against Women (2021).
Although there were limitations, the human rights of women could be protected within the boundaries of the law.
This was the fruit of Afghan women's painful efforts. Human Rights Watch evaluated the law on the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) as "a slow but true change and an advocacy pin for the efforts of Afghan women's human rights groups to reform other laws."
However, with the Taliban's resurgence, the law is on the verge of being scrapped.
Women's rights dated back 20 years
The Taliban seized Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, on August 15, and reclaimed power 20 years after their earlier five-year regime. After the Afghan government surrendered without a fight, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
The Taliban vowed to respect the human rights of women under Sharia law, but the Taliban brutally shot a woman who went out without a burka.
A woman dressed in tight-fitting clothing was murdered for refusing to accompany a male relative.
▲ A hair salon in Kabul where women's faces on the wall were severely damaged by spray.
The politics of fear has begun. Twenty years of work for Afghan women's human rights came to naught in an instant. Burka prices are skyrocketing, and girls and women born after 2001 who had never lived under the Taliban's rule find this reality unfamiliar and frightening.
The world is watching with bated breath as courageous Afghan women take to the streets to defend human rights at the risk of their lives.
The risk is the fact that cruel triggers can be pulled on these women at any time.
▲ On August 17, 2021, Afghan women protesting in front of Taliban soldiers demanding women's human rights.
The international community has urged the Taliban to protect its citizens’ human rights. The United Nations Secretary-General for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has urged Taliban leaders to respect the rights of Afghans. She specifically warned them not to cross the fundamental red line of rights for women and girls.
How to Help Afghan Women
What can we do to help the Afghan women who are terrified?
Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, the mother of refugee education in Afghanistan and the winner of the 2nd Sunhak Peace Prize, is desperately appealing to the world for interest and relief in Afghanistan.
"Our democracy could have imploded right now.
Anomalies, on the other hand, do not go away so easily.
Even the wind's whispers cannot be killed.
The Taliban will not be able to derail their dreams.
Even if it takes longer than we anticipated, we will prevail."
- After returning to power, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi sent a letter to partners around the world.
(Sakena Yacoobi's Special Letter: http://www.sunhakpeaceprize.org/en/news/notice.php?bgu=view&idx=478)
Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, who risked her life to run an underground school for girls under the Taliban in the late 1990s, founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) in 1995 and has been providing education and vocational training to thousands of refugees in order to improve Muslim women's rights and social status.
The Afghans will eventually return to a peaceful life, as Dr. Yacoobi predicted.
Even in the midst of this ruthless violence, there are people with ideals and beliefs that Afghanistan will rise again one day.
Everyone's attention and solidarity are urgently needed so that women and children in Afghanistan who have been harmed by the harsh reality do not abandon the "heart of hope."
| How to help Afghanistan
Make a contribution to the Afghan Learning Institute (AIL)
a United Nations peacekeeping force
The International Committee of the Red Cross