Taliban’s nightmare: Fearless women

Taliban’s nightmare: Fearless women

Despite the regime’s brutality against them, Afghan women continue to protest for their rights

Afghan women walk down a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 16, 2021. Picture taken on September 16, 2021. Credit: WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

Every repressive regime, however mighty and powerful, has its nightmares. For the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the worst nightmare has proven to be the country’s women who are articulate, aware of their rights, dream of building careers or women who have displayed unmatched resilience and have marched boldly on the streets to reclaim their right to freedom, despite knowing that they are fighting a regime that is regressive, patriarchal and anti-democratic in orientation. 

Women have been flocking the streets in the major cities of Afghanistan and protesting to demand basic rights such as those to education, work and political participation. These women have been putting up a brave front to tell the world that they are not ready to live in the dark ages or silently bow down before a regime that looks at them as insignificant. 

The Taliban’s utterly regressive outlook towards women has been made clear through its actions over the last couple of weeks, from openly telling women that they have no place in the new order to banning women from holding senior positions in Afghanistan’s new government, denying them the right to work, apart from in vocations like nursing or teaching. But women across important cities in Afghanistan have shown a brave front, only to be met with violent reactions from the Taliban ‘security forces.’ They have been threatened, beaten up, brutally assaulted. 

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Afghan women are asking, if Afghanistan is obliged to respect the international human rights law and allow people to conduct peaceful protests, then why are other governments not building enough pressure on the Taliban to stop the open assault on women’s right to an egalitarian and dignified existence? Why has the Taliban been allowed to openly demonstrate its unwillingness to allow women freedom of life and choice, to deny them the right to education and employment, and to assault them when they protest? 

The Taliban initially banned the women’s cricket team, saying that it’s better for women to concentrate on traditional domestic roles. In an interview with the Australian channel SBS, the deputy head of the Taliban’s ‘cultural commission’ Ahmadullah Wasiq said, “I don’t think women will be allowed to play cricket, because in cricket they might face a situation where their face or body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this. Islam and the Islamic Emirate do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed.” 

The Taliban has shown a clear intent to limit women’s access to public life, curtail their fundamental rights and confine them to domestic life, denying them any right to make their own choices or live on their own terms. It has successfully crushed all possibilities of women being included in governance, and this has become even more clear by a recent administrative statement stating, “A woman can’t be a minister, they should only give birth.” 

Women in Afghanistan are living amid fear and anxiety. What if this regime takes them back to the dark ages and takes away everything they have struggled for -- civil rights, representation in public life, etc? Who can forget the horrors that Afghanistan saw when the Taliban ruled the country 1996-2001, particularly so for its women who couldn’t attend schools, had to cover themselves from head to toe at all times of the day, were not allowed to venture outside without a male relative, could not pursue a career, and could not choose a partner for marriage, let alone participate in protests or hold public posts. 

A report by CNN reminds us that this coming to power of Taliban hasn’t been easy for women as they have been brutally attacked across major cities by an all-male interim government in Kabul. Videos and photographs of women holding placards and chanting slogans have shown how, despite the brutality, women aren’t ready to sacrifice hard earned rights. 

Protesting women and journalists are being brutally attacked and being told to go back or face execution. What is promising and inspiring is that despite all this, women across Afghanistan have been presenting a brave front and recently a record number of Hijab-clad women joined the largest protest in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Several smaller protests have been reported from various cities. 

This makes at least one thing very clear: that the women of Afghanistan are ready to fight back, they seek equal access to public life, administrative participation, equality of access to education and career opportunities, and a life of dignity and respect. The women of Afghanistan are an inspiration for women across the world as they speak against a regressive, undemocratic and patriarchal outlook that looks at awakened and empowered women as its worst nightmare. 

(The writer is Founding Editor, The New Leam)