On the Situation of Afghan Women


An Afghan girl after all her family were killed There never has been any reliable demographic statistics on Afghanistan for the past three decades. Of the estimated 16 million Afghans at the end of the 70s, over two million have been killed in the war of resistance against Soviet occupiers and later on in the civil war unleashed by fundamentalist groupings enjoying the support of foreign powers. Another one and half million have been maimed by the war fallout, while nearly five million have been forced into refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan. The majority of the population left inside the country have been internally displaced as a result of the unending war of the past three decades and in particular of the fundamentalist in-fighting from 1992-96. At the best of times the overall literacy rate was less than 20% amongst males and less than 5% amongst females. (These figures are considered by some as very optimistic.) Against such a backdrop, the country slid into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists in 1992 which was regarded as a tragedy for women’s rights.

Islamic fundamentalism of any kind in essence looks upon women as sub-humans, fit only for household slavery and as a means of procreation. Such an outrageous view has incredibly been elevated to the status of official policy with the coming to power of the ignorant Taliban. Not only the Jehadis (Northern Alliance etc.) and Taliban but all Islamists (advocates of an Islamic political system) target women’s rights as a first priority, citing mediaeval Sharia (Islamic law) as their authority.

With the coming to power of Islamic fundamentalists in 1992, women’s right to full participation in social, economic, cultural and political life of the country was drastically curtailed and later on summarily denied them by the Taliban. Under the latter, women were totally deprived of the right to education (all girls’ school were closed down), of the right to work (all women were ordered to remain in their houses and employers were threatened with dire consequences for taking up female employees), of the right to travel (no woman could venture out of the house alone and unaccompanied by a prescribed male member of the woman’s immediate family), of the right to health (no woman could see a male doctor, family planning was outlawed, women could not be operated upon by a surgical team containing a male member), of the right to legal recourse (a woman’s testimony was worth half a man’s testimony; a woman could not petition the court directly – this had to be done through a prescribed male member of her immediate family), of the right to recreation (all women’s recreational and sporting facilities had been banned, women singers could not sing least their female voices ‘corrupt’ males, etc.), and of the right to being human (they could not show their faces in public to male strangers, they could not wear bright colored clothing, they could not wear make up, they could only appear outside their houses clad head to foot in shapeless bags called burqas, they could not wear shoes with heels that click [least the clicking sound of their feet corrupt males], they could not travel in private vehicles with male passengers, they did not have the right to raise their voices when talking in public, they could not laugh loud as it lures males into corruption, etc. etc.)

This incredible list could be carried on and on but does not in itself constitute the whole of the tragedy which has engulfed the better half of Afghan society. Women are looked upon as war booty, their bodies are another battleground for belligerent parties. Atrocities in Bosnia pale when compared to atrocities in Afghanistan, but unfortunately for reason which it may not be appropriate to go into in this context, the world community neither heard nor cared about what was going on in Afghanistan.

Beating up of women for ‘disciplinary’ reasons on the slightest pretext (wearing brightly colored shoes or thin stockings, having their bare ankles show when they walk, having their voices raised when they speak, having the sound of their laughter reach the ears of men strangers, having their heels click when walking etc.) was a routine phenomenon in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Through such public beatings (which more often than not have resulted in death or disablement of the victim) the Taliban had cowed the civilian population into submission.

With the fundamentalists’ war mentality, and fanned by ethnic hatred and religious bigotry, all areas that come under their control are regarded as occupied land and the inhabitants are treated accordingly. Sexual crimes against women, gang raping, lust murders, abductions of young females, blackmail of families with eligible daughters, etc. were commonplace during the rule of the pre-Taliban fundamentalists, who now once again have key positions in the government of Hamid Karzai and are free to brutalize Afghan women in areas under their domination.

In connection with custodial violence against women, documentation of sexual violence against women during times of conflict and violence against refugee and internally displaced women we would first and foremost like to refer you to Amnesty International’s reports such as WOMEN IN AFGHANISTAN: A human rights catastrophe (March 1995) or AFGHANISTAN: International responsibility for human rights disaster (November 1995), as an eloquent testimony to the situation of women under the fundamentalists. You may find many more such documents on the web site of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Apart from the above, you can find a number of eyewitness accounts of atrocities by the Taliban and their Jehadi brothers on our web site.

After the 9/11 tragedy, when the US began bombing Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the oppression of Afghan women was used as a justification for overthrowing the Taliban regime. Five weeks later America's first lady, Laura Bush, stated triumphantly: "Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women." A woman victim of family violence

But unfortunately the reality shows a different picture. The people of the world should know that though the disgusting, ludicrous and oppressive rule of Taliban was over in our ill-fated Afghanistan, but this never means the end of the horrible miseries of our tortured women. Because contrary to the aspirations of our people and expectations of the world community, the Northern Alliance, these brethren-in-creed of the Taliban and Al-Qaida are again in power and generously supported by the US government. Yes it has completely shattered the dream of our wounded people for liberation from the heavy chains of the Taliban tyranny, because the NA is nothing but a fragile coalition of a "batch of bandits" -according to the UN especial envoy- with a long list of crimes and brutalities against our people. Afghan people will never forgive them for the crimes they committed along with the so-called older generation of the Alliance, i.e. Dostum, Khalili, Sayyaf, Rabbani, Gulbuddin etc. while in power from 1992 to 1996. Only in Kabul 65,000 were killed during these bloody years.

Leaders of the Northern Alliance has no ideological difference with the Taliban. Some of them may talk even about "elections" and "women's rights", but in fact they are as much misogynist as the Taliban.

The war in Afghanistan has removed the Taliban, which so far does appear to be an improvement for women in certain limited parts of the country. In other areas, the incidence of rape and forced marriage is on the rise again, and most women continue to wear the burqa out of fear for their safety. The level of everyday violence in Afghanistan is something we would find it hard to imagine. "War on terrorism" has removed the Taliban, but it has not removed religious fundamentalism which is the main cause of all our miseries. It will require a very different approach indeed for those evils to be eliminated, which is RAWA's point. And in fact, by reinstalling the warlords in power in Afghanistan, the US is ultimately replacing one fundamentalist regime with another.

Karzai has gathered all criminals around him and even some top Taliban leaders like Mullah Ghaus, Hakim Mujahid (Taliban spokesperson who was on a US tour only months before 9/11), Wakil Ahmad Motawakal (Taliban Foreign Minister), Mullah Zaheef (Taliban Ambassador in Pakistan), Mullah Hotaki, Mullah Arsala etc. have been forgiven by Mr. Karzai and allowed to open their office in Kabul. Instead of appearing in the court of justice for their crimes, in the name of “moderated Taliban” these criminal and misogynist elements are coming in political scene once again because the US policy in Afghanistan requires such deals with them. This is indeed an unforgivable and treasonable deal against our nation and especially our ill-fated women.

It is due to such dealings of Karzai government and his US masters with terrorist warlords that Taliban-like decrees are still in place on our unfortunate women. It was on April 23, 2005 that Amina, a 29 year-old woman was publicly stoned to death on the basis of a district court's decision in northern province of Badakhshan who was accused of committing adultery.

Whenever there are fundamentalists, there will be hostility against women and RAWA's struggle for women's rights will not be over. Beside the fundamentalists' crimes against women, old traditions also regard women as second sex and they are suppressed, so RAWA's mission for women's rights is far from over and we have to work hard for women's rights in Afghanistan. We need the solidarity and support of all people around the world.

Français | Deutsch | Italiano | Português

Reports on the situation of Afghan women
Some of the restrictions imposed by Taliban on women

Zarmeena is being excuted by Taliban
Public execution of an Afghan woman by Taliban in Kabul
Photos from a video film by RAWA (click here to view more photos and movie clips)

Self-Burning Among Afghan Women
Alarming rate of self-immolation among Afghan women

[Reports from Afghanistan] [Photo Gallery] [Home Page]