The women and girls of Afghanistan have been facing a tragic time since the Taliban took over Afghanistan last August and crushed women’s rights, arresting and abusing women's rights activists to stifle their bold voices forever. But before all this, Afghanistan had an outstanding, liberal history, where women achieved equal rights, particularly the right to vote in 1919, at a time when the women of the United States, Switzerland, Spain, and Italy were still deprived of the right to vote.
A Liberal Past
A century ago, Afghanistan’s women were free – they enjoyed the right to education, the right to political participation, and the right to movement. Even till the 1970s, more than 60% of the Kabul University students were women, and they had equal participation in many state institutions.
But Afghanistan’s women also suffered under the largest war in human history, lost children, grew up amid starvation and the thunder of blasts and bullets, missed their husbands who became the victims of conflict, and saw their homes being razed.
Mothers saw the state of their daughters who became war widows, who began their mornings with tears and slept at night under deep anguish, but still had hope that there would come a day when their children would see a happy life on the same soil.
However, the Taliban overthrew the elected government of Afghanistan last August, established a stone-age regime with barbaric laws, reversed centuries of women's achievements, deprived millions of Afghan women of their right to education, ousted tens of thousands of women from jobs, and banned women’s businesses and all sorts of activism. Today, they have crushed the women of Afghanistan and have plunged them into the Dark Ages again. The Afghan woman has now lost even the right to life.
A Graveyard of Dreams and Hopes
Over half of Afghanistan’s population – around 23 million people – are suffering from hunger, around a million children are at risk of dying from starvation, and millions of widows and female breadwinners, who were the sole providers of their families, are now facing unprecedented destitution. Begging on the streets along with their children is the only course left for them.
Hunger-related diseases and deaths have devastated Afghanistan, while thousands are dying by suicide due to famine in the 34 provinces of the country.
All men and women are created equal and deserve to have equal rights and opportunities. But the Taliban doesn’t believe in such equality. Under their regime, women have no role in policy and decision-making.
However, even as the Taliban try to ensure that women don’t think about their rights and their voices are not heard, Afghan women continue to demand the same rights and respect as men, and a say in their own future.
Under the past administrations, Afghanistan women and girls dreamt and polished their skills, and got educated with the hopes that they would accomplish equal rights and contribute to the development of their country. But the Taliban have turned Afghanistan into a graveyard of their dreams and hopes.
A Jail for 20 Million Women
Consequently, the brutal and primitive Taliban rule has also led to an unprecedented brain drain of Afghanistan’s highly educated and accomplished women. Thousands of professors, doctors, economists, journalists and women’s rights activists who played a significant role in developing Afghanistan’s institutions and politics have now left the country.
The Taliban do not want educated women, who are much-needed to build a better future for all Afghans, to remain in the country. And once they all leave, the Taliban will freely impose far more draconian laws in future without any criticism.
Currently, Afghanistan is not a country for half of its population – it’s the biggest jail in the world where 20 million women have no rights and are living like prisoners of war. They are living corpses.
Despite these tragedies, the Afghan women did not give up soon. They fought back and protested against extremism.
But soon, the Taliban launched door-to-door raids against women activists when dozens of women demonstrated in Kabul last month and demanded the right to education, political activism, and work. First, they dispersed protesters and fired pepper spray at the crowd; many were stunned by electric shocks. Soon after, they arrested dozens of activists and silenced the last remaining voices of women.
But the world must remember that we are not just citizens of Afghanistan but global citizens, where international law prevails. It is the responsibility of the United Nations and the international community to exercise international law in Afghanistan and protect its women as the Taliban continue to tyrannise women with their oppressive policies and snatch all their rights.
(Spozhmay Maseed is an Afghan woman rights activist living in Washington. She tweets @spozhmey. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)