‘We’ll be Slaves’: Afghanistan Women Flee Homes to Avoid Marrying Taliban Men
'I wanted to achieve rights for the women of my country. But now I have lost the right to life.'
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Zareen (name changed) completed her MPhil in Political Science last July from Bangladesh and returned to Afghanistan with the dream of becoming a politician and fighting to achieve equal rights for women. But when the Taliban unexpectedly overthrew the Afghanistan government in August last year and banned women’s education and political activism, her dreams were crushed.
Her tragic story doesn’t end here. The Taliban demanded from her father that his daughter become the wife of one of their veteran ‘fighters’, who made tremendous ‘sacrifices’ to defeat Americans and re-establish the Islamic system in Afghanistan.
Her father, deeply frightened, decided not to reject the demand in order to protect his family from brutal consequences, and told the commander that the family would consider the matter. For the father, tragedy lies at both ends – he will either be forced to ruin the life of his daughter or face the Taliban’s atrocities.
“I wanted to achieve rights for the women of my country. But unfortunately, I myself have lost the right to life,” said the 28-year-old woman, who is running from place to place, hoping to escape the catastrophe. “Life will be hell for me if the Talib forcefully marry me. I will spend my whole life like a slave, who has just the right to suffer and bear cruelty.”
'The Grave Is Better than Being Married to a Terrorist'
The next day, Zareen and her mother fled from Maimay, a district in Badakhshan province, and set out on a long journey.
Though Zareen misses her father and siblings, she has not seen her home after that day. “If I go home, the Taliban will forcefully marry me, and then I will have to spend my entire life with a man who does not have any respect for women and believes that wives are their slaves.”
Zareen also says that she knows some women who were forced to marry Taliban militants. She says “they are dying every day”.
“It is better to end my life rather than marry a terrorist. The grave is better than living with a terrorist,” she says, tearing up, her hands shaking during the interview. Her voice trails off. “I am unable to talk anymore. You can understand my situation from my tears.”
Women are 'Spoils' of the War for Taliban
In Afghanistan, Taliban fighters are reportedly going door to door in some areas, asking parents to marry their daughters to the ‘movement’s’ foot soldiers. They are making forceful demands, threatening the women if they refuse.
So far, Taliban soldiers have visited Zareen’s father thrice, asking him about his daughter. He told them that Zareen left home without his permission and he doesn’t know her whereabouts.
Local Taliban supporters are also repeatedly pressurising Zareen’s father to call his daughter home and accept the proposal. “I am in a very bad situation, my sorrow cannot be described in words,” says the father.
“My daughter will spend every moment of her life in tears and anguish if we marry her with the Talib. And if we reject their demand, my family would face harsh consequences.”
It’s clear that after having ‘won’ Afghanistan, the Taliban sees women as mere 'kaniz', or slave women, and they are treated as 'qhanimat', or spoils of the war, meant to be divided up among the victors.
“Offering woman as ‘wives’ is a policy to motivate people to join the Taliban. This is not marriage, but a form of sex slavery. Forcing women into sexual enslavement under the name of marriage is a war crime,” says Asma Hafizi, a women's rights activist in Kabul.
Forced marriages are one of the biggest issues for Afghanistan women, in addition to having lost their economic, educational, and political rights. Most victims of forced marriages have been compelled to flee from their villages or cities to protect their future.
'They Killed Our Brothers, Orphaned Thousands'
Ismat (name changed), 25, who got her Master’s degree in Economics from Kabul University in 2020 and was working with an NGO in Bamyan, says that the Taliban proclaimed in her area that every family should give their unengaged daughters to the Taliban for marriage.
“The Taliban came to our family and asked my uncle to marry me and my cousin to their fighters. I resisted for a few days, and then fled from home to save my life,” said Ismat.
“The international community should pressurise the Taliban to stop forced marriages; it’s not just a life sentence for women but also a crime against humanity.”
“How can any woman live a happy life with men who are experts at murder, planned bombings, and who killed our brothers and orphaned and widowed tens of thousands of Afghanistan citizens?”
(Hizbullah Khan is a freelance journalist covering Afghanistan. He can be reached on Twitter @HizbkKhan.)
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