KABUL, Afghanistan – Farzana Ahmadi saw a neighbor in her village in northern Afghanistan being flogged by Taliban fighters last month. Crime: Her face exposed.
“Every woman should cover her eyes,” recalls Ms. Ahmadi, a Taliban member. People silently watched the beating continued.
Fear – stronger than it has been in past years – is gripping Afghans now that US and NATO forces leave the country in the coming months. They will leave behind the openly victorious Taliban, which many expect will seize more territory and reinstate many of the same oppressive rules they imposed under their regime in the 1990s.
The New York Times spoke to several Afghan women – members of civil society, politicians, journalists, and others – about what would happen next in their country, and they all said the same thing: What happens will not bode well for them.
Whether the Taliban regain power by force or through a political agreement with the Afghan government, their influence will almost inevitably grow. In a country where there is no end to nearly 40 years of conflict, many Afghans are talking of an imminent civil war.
“At all times, women are victims of men’s wars,” said Rehana Azad, a member of the Afghan parliament. “But they will also be victims of their peace.”
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they prevented women and girls from holding most jobs or attending school, and in practice made them prisoners of their own homes.
After the US invasion to topple the Taliban and defeat Al Qaeda in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Western crowd’s cry to bring women’s rights to the already war-torn country seemed to many a noble mission. The reason helped sell the war to the Americans who were alarmed by the sight of the B-52 bombing insurgent positions.
Some schools have reopened, giving young women and girls the opportunity to education and jobs that many had previously not had. But even before US forces touched Afghan soil, some women had already risked their lives by pursuing an education and educating themselves in secret.
Over two decades, the United States has spent more than $ 780 million promoting women’s rights in Afghanistan. The result is a generation that has reached adulthood in a period of hope for women’s equality.
Although progress has been uneven, girls and women now make up about 40 percent of the students. They have joined Army and policeAnd the He held a political officeAnd the They became internationally recognized singersAnd the Compete in the Olympiad And the In robotics teamsMountain climbing and more – all the things that were nearly impossible at the turn of the century.
As the conflict dragged on for more than 20 years and escalated setbacks on the battlefield, US officials and lawmakers have repeatedly cited the gains of Afghan women and girls as evidence of the success of the nation-building effort – a measure of progress trying to justify the loss of American and Afghan lives, and the billions of dollars spent on the war effort.
Even in the preceding twilight weeks President Biden made his final decision To withdraw all US forces by September, some lawmakers and military officials have argued that preserving women’s rights was one of the reasons for keeping US forces there.
Shahida Hussain, an activist in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, said: “I remember when the Americans came and said that they would not leave us alone, that Afghanistan would be free from persecution, free from war, and women’s rights would be protected.” The province, where the Taliban rose to power for the first time and now controls large swaths of territory. “Now it looks like they were just slogans.”
Across the country, schools are now forced to consider whether to remain open.
Fayrouz Uzbaki Karimi, president of Faryab University in the North, supervises 6000 students – half of them are women.
“Female students who live in Taliban areas have been threatened several times, but their families send them in secret,” Karimi said. “If the foreign forces leave early, the situation will only get worse.”
Human rights groups, NGOs, schools and businesses are left to try to put in place contingency plans for female employees and students in the event that the Taliban return to power by force or through an agreement with the Afghan government.
In his Wednesday announcement, Mr. Biden said the United States will continue to prioritize women’s rights through humanitarian and diplomatic assistance.
But so far, the gains made by women in some places over the past 20 years have been fleeting and unevenly distributed despite millions invested in women’s rights programs.
In Taliban-controlled areas, education for women is very restricted, if not non-existent. In the north, tribal sheikhs negotiated the reopening of some schools for girls, although subjects such as social sciences would be replaced by Islamic studies. Education centers routinely attack targets, and More than 1,000 schools It has been closed in recent years.
“My dream was to work in a government office,” said Ms. Ahmadi, 27, who graduated from Kunduz University two years ago before moving to a Taliban-controlled village with her husband. “But I’ll take my dream to the grave.”
If there is one thing that decades of Afghan war have taught me, it is that conflict has never been a good way to achieve human or women’s rights. Since the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the war has continually fueled further war, ultimately undermining any humanitarian achievements.
Under the American occupation, some benefited from educational opportunities, cultural shifts, employment, and healthcare, and hardly affected others, especially in rural areas. In those places, some of the most brutal chapters of the war have faded, with many civilians killed and livelihoods destroyed.
Women’s views are often blurred in these parts, where nearly three-quarters of Afghanistan’s 34 million people live, and it is often inaccessible due to geographic, technological and cultural limitations.
“Despite real improvements, Afghanistan remains one of the most difficult places in the world for women,” a US government watchdog organization Report Released in February he said. “US efforts to support women and girls and gender equality in Afghanistan have yielded mixed results.”
still, The Taliban’s severely restricted religious governance structure effectively ensures that the oppression of women is incorporated into whatever iteration of rule they bring.
The Taliban’s idea of achieving justice for women for Ms. Ahmadi when she saw the insurgents beat an unveiled woman in front of her in Kunduz province.
For many other Afghans, the judicial system of government was of a different kind.
Farzana Alizadeh believes her sister Maryam was killed by her mistreating husband. But she said that a police investigation of any kind took months to begin due to the absence of prosecutors and corruption. Ms Ali Zadeh’s son-in-law even pressured her to drop the charges accusing her of theft. The police asked her why she would pay the case if her sister died.
Domestic violence remains a perennial problem in Afghanistan. About 87 percent of Afghan women and girls experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to A. Human Rights Watch report.
I lost all hope I had in this government. In some cases, the Taliban might be better than this system. ”Ms. Alizadeh said,“ No one is on my side. ”
Ms. Alizadeh’s feelings were likewise portrayed in Doha, Qatar, in the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Despite months of negotiations, there has been little progress, especially when it comes to discussing women’s rights, which neither side has given priority.
At a separate peace conference in Moscow in March between the Afghan government, political influencers and the Taliban, only one woman, Habiba Sarabi, participated in the 12-member delegation sent by the Afghan government. Only four are part of the 21-person team in Doha.
“Moscow – and Doha, too, with a small number of actresses – revealed the thin veneer of support for true equality and the so-called post-2001 gains when it comes to who will decide the country’s future,” said Patricia. Gusman, assistant director for Asia at Human Rights Watch.
But one almost indisputable gain is Afghanistan’s access to the Internet and the media. Cell phone coverage extends across most of the country, which means that Afghan women and girls have more space to learn and communicate outside of their family bubbles and their villages. Afghan media have also flourished after major investment from foreign governments and investors, and many women have become journalists and celebrities nationally.
But even their future is uncertain.
Lina Sherzad is the Acting Managing Director of a small radio station in Badakhshan in the troubled north of Afghanistan. She employs 15 women and fears they will lose their jobs, given the increasing insecurity. Even some large national outlets are looking to move staff or move some operations outside of the country.
“With the withdrawal of foreign forces in the next few months, these women will be the breadwinners for their families and will be unemployed,” said Ms. Sherzad. Will their values and achievements be preserved or not?
Fahim Abed contributed reporting from Kabul, and Timur Shah from Kandahar.