Women: Forgotten and Betrayed
By Bhumika Ghimire
For centuries Afghan women have been at the receiving end of religious bigotry,
indifference and poverty. The persecution of women under the Taliban was just
one chapter in a long history of violence and discrimination.
Between the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 and the Taliban's rise to
power in 1996-97, the country was fought over by warring factions, including
Mujaheddin, who first toppled the Soviet-backed government and then argued with
Afghan society is highly patriarchal and great importance is placed on female
sexual virtue. Well aware of this, fighters committed rapes and other sexual
assaults against women as a means to dishonor their enemies and reduce the
likelihood of military resistance.
As in all patriarchal societies women are treated as less than human, so in
Afghanistan they became the spoils of war. In 1999 Amnesty International
reported that between 1992 and 1995 military leaders appeared to condone
rape as a reward for soldiers and as a method of intimidation.
Women committed suicide to avoid falling into the hands of the soldiers and in
one case documented by Amnesty International a father reportedly killed his
daughter to prevent her from being abducted. It must be remembered that this was
not simply the abuse of grown women, children were also affected. One woman told
Amnesty International that her 13-year-old niece was dragged away by armed men
in 1993. She said:
"They said their commander wanted her. They took her away. She was resisting and
screaming, but they dragged her away. We were frightened that if we did anything
we all would be killed. They would kill any girl who refused to go with them."
Like the Taliban after them, the warring factions aimed to deprive women of
education and the right to work outside the home. However, as their power
structure was less stable than that of the Taliban they were less successful in
their implementation of this malicious policy.The international media largely
ignored what was happening to women in Afghanistan because it was focused on the
rising drug trade, and the Afghan civil war. It seems likely that the
journalists simply took it for granted as just another consequence of war.
That beacon for freedom and democracy, the United States government, provided
arms and financial assistance to the Mujaheddin but never tried to do anything
to hold them accountable. There were no trials against those abusing women and
girls; there were no calls to bring them to justice.
In March 2005 the new Afghan government delivered another blow to the long
suffering women of Afghanistan by appointing General Abdul Rashid Dostum, one of
the warlords who appeared to condone rape and other kinds of sexual violence as
a weapon, as Chief of Staff of Afghanistan's armed forces. This shows that the
culture of rewarding those who commit crimes against women is still present in
If the General had permitted his troops to sexually assault all foreign
nationals in Afghanistan, it is likely that he would not have been appointed.
However, as it was "just" Afghan women, a blind eye has been turned.Of course,
no history of the persecution of Afghan women is complete without mentioning the
These religious zealots, who started out to clean Afghan society of vice and
fill it with virtue, are now best known for their smuggling activities, ethnic
cleansing and cowardly persecution of women. The Taliban started their campaign
in Khandahar province in the south of Afghanistan in 1994.
Most of the men in the Taliban were trained in madrassas (religious schools) in
Pakistan, and they had strong backing from that country. In his book Taliban
(p.183), author Ahmed Rashid talks about how in June 1998 the Pakistani Finance
Ministry sanctioned 300 million rupees (US$ 6 million) as salary for the Taliban
government in Kabul.
Pakistan was the first nation to recognize the Taliban government, and it never
pressured the regime to stop hijacking Islam in order to score political gains.
In Islamabad, female Afghan refugees were severely beaten when they held a
protest rally against the Taliban's treatment of women. In October 1998, it was
reported that Afghan journalist Najeeba Sara Bibi was shot at in Peshawar. The
Pakistani government claimed that such attacks on Afghan campaigners for women's
rights were isolated incidents.
Najeeba Sara Bibi had angered the Taliban government with her reporting on
women's rights issues. The Taliban government had even sent her threatening
letters with an official seal, under the name of then chief of Afghan
Intelligence, Maulvi Muhammad Sarwar Mukhlis. The attackers were not
In America the Clinton administration stayed silent on the treatment of women by
the Taliban, until Hollywood got involved and embarrassed the government into
taking action. The anti-Taliban movement became fashionable in 1999 when a huge
rally was organized by feminists after the Oscars.
The American government could no longer afford to claim that everything was ok
in Afghanistan. But by then the damage had been done. Thousands of women were
prisoners in their own homes, many had died of hunger and disease, and many more
had had their spirits irreparably damaged by the brutal Taliban mullahs.The
international community reluctantly imposed limited sanctions against the
Taliban government in 2000. One is forced to wonder what would have happened if
the U.S. had not attacked Afghanistan after 9/11.
Would the Taliban still be there whipping women whose socks show a centimeter of
flesh?Now the Taliban are no longer in power but the situation has not improved
for Afghan women.
Reports by the BBC and other news agencies say that the Taliban are busy
rearming and that they have stepped up their attacks against American and
British troops. (BBC News, 2006) In the Taliban's village strongholds, women
have not been fortunate enough to see the light of change, and even in cities
women are still too scared to go out without their burqas.
Schools for girls have been attacked and set on fire to prevent them from
learning. To make matters worse, Hamid Karzai's government has decided to revive
the notorious Vice and Virtue department.
This is the same Vice and Virtue police who in the Taliban's time made women
cover up from head to toe, whipped them if they stepped out of the house
unaccompanied by a male relative, and stoned them to death if they were raped.
Fear has once again gripped the women of Afghanistan by the throat.
It seems that once again the largely male community of world leaders is choosing
to ignore the dangers faced by women in Afghanistan.
The story of the suffering of Afghan women seems never ending. They have been
betrayed by their neighbors, the world community and by their own people. After
9/11 they were celebrated across the world as a reason to fight for freedom. Now
it seems that they are no longer fashionable and that the international
community has largely forgotten them.
How sad it is that despite the new government and all the hype created by the
media that women in Afghanistan are now "liberated," the situation hasn't
changed much. Sure they are not whipped anymore for not wearing burqas, but they
are still too scared to walk outside uncovered.
The criminals responsible for so many rapes and murders are walking on the
streets, yet women are forced to give up their hopes for freedom and stay at
home. You can see for yourself how bad the situation is just by visiting the
Website of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.
Among recent news items on the Website are stories of a 12-year-old girl being
burned by her husband; girls denied schooling, child brides and women poets and
journalists being killed. No amount of whitewashing by the U.S. and its allies
can hide the fact that the situation has not changed for the women of
If we had worked on removing fundamentalism rather than the fundamentalists
maybe things would be better by now.
Taliban by Ahmed Rashid
Veiled Courage by Cheryl Benard
Zoya's Story by Zoya with John Follain and Rita Cristofari
"This OhmyNews International (english.ohmynews.com)
article is reprinted with permission."