“I’m going to say to the whole world — shame on you!”
Mahboua Seraj, the Executive Director of Afghan Women Skills Development Centre, said in a viral video interview to TRT World on Sunday, 15 August. She was speaking her mind, seething with righteous anger, for the world has 'disgusted' her and millions of women in Afghanistan, by turning a deaf ear to the horrors they are subjected to by the Taliban.
"I'm not a brave person...but the women and girls of Afghanistan need me and it is my job and my duty to do this work. But I love my life and I want to stay for my daughters and sisters."Mahbouba Seraj
An entire generation of Afghan women are torn – as they see the spaces they rightfully occupied – like streets, schools and universities – shrink into nothingness.
Afghan women are not just looking for support and condemnation. They are looking for a lifeline as all the major stakeholders have subtly turned their eyes away. For an entire generation, terror may have just begun and they fear that they will 'die in history'.
2001 in 2021: The Return to The Dark Ages
When the Taliban occupied Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, they imposed the strictest of patriarchal rules.
Girls were not allowed to enter schools, they most definitely were not allowed in universities. Women could not step out of their homes without a male relative to escort them, and they had to cover their face at all times.
The women who defied these rules not just suffered humiliation but also public beatings under the Taliban's ultra-conservative police.
Exactly 20 years later, a new generation of Afghanistan women find themselves in a place that their mothers fought hard to get out of.
"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?”Zahra, 26, to Associated Press
"The men standing around were making fun of girls and women, laughing at our terror. “Go & put on your burqa,” one called out, reported The Guardian.
“It's your last days of being out on the streets,” said another, the newspaper reported. “I'll marry four of you in a day,” said a third, it added.
Women Not Allowed to Work, Walk On Streets Alone
In Kandahar, a group of Taliban terrorists walked into Azizi Bank and ordered nine women working there to leave, reported Reuters. The women were told that their male relatives will take their place.
"I taught myself English and even learned how to operate a computer, but now I will have to look for a place where I can just work with more women around," Noor Khatera, a 43-year-old woman who worked in the bank, told Reuters.
Two days after this, in another bank, Taliban terrorists reportedly walked in with guns and admonished two women employees for 'showing their face in public.'
"After the establishment of the Islamic system, it will be decided according to the law, and God willing, there will be no problems," Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told the news agency.
“Girls who had duty out of house are at greater risk, because [the Taliban] recognised them and then they punish, they ask you are Muslim why are you working out of you home. … Me and my sister are afraid for … our self and family, we had worked many years.”Anonymous Afghan Woman to Washington Post
Reports Of Forced Marriage, Burqa
Multiple but unconfirmed reports also suggest that girls and women above the age of 15 and under 45 are forced into marrying Taliban fighters in Badakhshan and Takhar regions of the country.
"My husband asked me to change the type of clothes I wear, and to start wearing the burqa so that the Taliban will pay less attention to me if I am outside," a woman told The Guardian.
A survey of 3,480 Afghan women from 16 provinces under Taliban rule revealed that 69 percent of women said that they were forced to marry and wear the burqa.
49 percent women surveyed said that they disagreed that the Taliban had changed their pre-2001 repressive ways of the Taliban, while 37 percent 'strongly disagreed' with the same.
The women have been warning that they would be the most affected, ever since peace talks began between the Taliban and the Afghan government. But as they pointed out on social media – no one listened.
Data shows that more Afghani women and children were killed in the first half of 2021 than in the first six months of any year since records began in 2009, LiveMint reported, quoting Afghanistan government.
Some 80 percent of nearly a quarter of a million Afghans forced to flee since the end of May are women and children, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
What Could Be Immediately?
The women of Afghanistan are flooding the internet requesting help – and it is time for the United Nations and the international community, including India, to act decisively and open the gates for them.
Secondly, as Vrinda Narain Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, McGill University writes, in The Conversation, there should be immediate ceasefire.
"Calling for an immediate ceasefire to ensure the peace process can proceed in good faith," she pointed.
"Charter direct evacuation flights for Afghan women activists most imminently under threat. Use appropriated money for Afghan refugees for livelihood assistance for women activists who manage to relocate," pointed Heather Barr, Associate Director of Women's Rights Division, in Human Rights Watch, on Twitter.
Barr also added that the US should establish a special parole programme for "at-risk Afghan human rights defenders, women’s rights activists, politicians, journalists other highly visible women being targeted for their refusal to conform to Taliban-dictated gender norms"
Afghanistan went from have zero girls in schools to more than 50 percent of those enrolled in universities being women in a span of 20 years. They were lawyers and judges, bankers and doctors, sportswomen and journalists. Importantly, they made it to the parliament.
The Taliban has snatched away years of hopes and dreams, and human rights.
The Afghan women are seeking a lifeline – and hope the world listens.