In just under nine months, the Taliban have decimated the rights previously afforded Afghan women. Most Afghan women have lost the ability to work. Women can no longer travel or leave their homes without a male relative. Secondary schools for girls remain shut down, and though Afghan women can attend college, fear of the Taliban leads many to continue studying online. Most recently, the Taliban have forced Afghan women to don the face-covering chador or niqab, though their orders falsely reference these garbs as “hijab,” a less restrictive head covering.
While women who break these rulings face assault, rape, imprisonment, and death, the all-male Taliban leaders who instate them travel the world, meeting with international organizations and garnering prestigious media interviews. A group of Afghan women collaborating with the nonprofit Global Friends of Afghanistan is working to bring the voices of Afghan women back into the spotlight. In the group's first countrywide survey of Afghan women from various economic and social backgrounds, it has given Afghan women the anonymous opportunity to provide their thoughts on school access and security. The findings of this survey reflect the diversity of Afghan women’s opinions. They also underscore the despair and anger that unite the women of Afghanistan.
In regards to the Taliban’s ruling barring girls from returning to school, one woman told Global Friends of Afghanistan that access to education “is part of our religious belief.” Another explained that “it is only the Taliban who don’t want us to go to school. The people of Afghanistan work very hard for the sole purpose of providing their children an education.”
Several women noted that support for girls’ school attendance is not universal in Afghanistan. But as one woman asked, “Why are millions of women who have their family’s approval now being punished for those who don’t want education?”
One woman explained that she had recently interviewed women in the provinces of Herat, Balkh, Kabul, Paktia, and Khost about girls’ education. “Madrasah-educated and pro-Taliban women in rural Khost [told me] they supported girls’ education and were angered by the decision of the Taliban” to keep secondary schools closed, she said. “They, however, said that girls' education should be in accordance with sharia law … describ[ing] what is already in place in the Afghan education system such as sex segregation and female teachers for girls.”
Another common theme was the quality of life that literacy grants women. One respondent spoke of the “heavy price [women have paid] for the small achievement they have today. [Some have] fought with their family, parents, relatives, friends, and society in order to let them go to school and university.” Even when the country was plagued by suicide bombings and explosions, another woman explained that “my family still encouraged all the daughters to go to school and university.”
Many of the Taliban’s misogynistic rulings promise to enhance women’s safety. Global Friends of Afghanistan asked women whether they have an increased perception of safety under the Taliban. Their gut-wrenching answers show the variety of insecurities facing Afghan women, from losing their inheritances to the fear that comes with being denied their most basic human rights.
“I don’t feel safe,” said one woman. “Every minute I wonder what right will be taken away from me tomorrow. I can’t sleep at night. I rarely leave the house, fearing the Taliban will do something to me or my sisters.” Another woman explained she feels “like a prisoner at home. I don’t even want to go outside after seeing bodies of executed citizens hung on trees.”
Physical security is not the only concern for Afghan women. As one respondent explained, “There is no safety or security. Not economic, not political. There is open discrimination and no law that protects us.” Another woman elaborated, “I do not have mental security, neither for education, nor to go out of the house for shopping, to go to work, to dress, to think. Our whole life has become fear and anxiety about when we will be attacked by the Taliban.”
One woman reported that feeling abandoned by the international community increases her sense of insecurity. “Our current life is like we are in a dark hole,” she said. “And the world is pretending they don’t know where we are.”
Beth Bailey (@BWBailey85) is a freelance writer from the Detroit area. She is a media fellow with Global Friends of Afghanistan.