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Can Women Disappear: Women in the Taliban Regime

After a particularly concerning picture has surfaced on Twitter, it has been doing rounds on the internet: the picture of a man whitewashing a wall which used to have an advertisement showing female models, in the Taliban occupied Kabul. This photo, posted by an Afghan journalist, Lotfullah Najafizada, has caused an uproar all over the internet, and has posed a pertinent question; “Can women disappear?”


Perhaps, the question should have been formulated differently: Can women be erased, be made to disappear?


The Taliban emerged in the early 1990-s, after the departure of the Soviets from Afghanistan. It is primarily a Deobandi Islamist movement and military organization, which is keen to establish strict Sharia laws in Afghanistan.


This strict enforcement includes public execution, stoning, and other gross violations of human rights and dignity. Its primary growth and expansion had begun by taking the help of the USA, to reach their joint goal of driving away from the USSR from the Afghan soils.


Funnily enough, it is the same USA that was supposed to drive away from the Taliban from Afghanistan, after the latter gained control of the majority of the country by 1996. Although the US troops kept the Taliban at bay from 2001, the military organization had been gathering strength for a while now, thus resulting in the complete takeover of the Afghan Parliament and the starting of another Taliban regime in Afghanistan, from May 2021.


Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan President, has now fled from the country, and the previous Government has collapsed. The US has conveniently evacuated its diplomats and citizens from Afghanistan; however, several thousands and lakhs of people are still left behind there - men, women, children - for whom, no chopper is on its way.


They have little to do now except stay and await a fate that consists of possibly terrorism and horror.


However, much the Taliban spokesperson claims that this time is going to be different from the last regime, where the rights of all citizens, including the women, would be upheld, the threat of the recurrence of the previous situation draws over.


The Taliban has already demanded that all women should be in Burqas; as a form of protest, the women of Afghanistan have taken to the social media to post pictures of themselves in the traditional, colorful Afghan clothes, claiming that to be the true culture of Afghanistan, not plain black burqas.


At the beginning of July, in Kandahar, 9 female bank employees were escorted home by Taliban gunmen and threatened to not return to their workplace. The male members of the employees were asked to take up those jobs, instead. Already, the Taliban has issued a ban against women going into work fields, within a month since its takeover.


They have also issued restrictions on the education of women, barring them from participating in secondary education.


Co-educational institutes have been strictly instructed to segregate women from men. Co-education is banned; some universities are now trying to accommodate the women from behind curtains or cubicles in the classrooms or to build separate classrooms for them.


In a report by The Indian Express, Khairuddin Khairkah, Chancellor of Takhar University, says, “Our plan is to hold classes separately for men and women wherever more than 15 women are in one class. To do this, we plan to introduce shifts: morning and afternoon. If there are less than 15 women, we will purchase dividers, as they use in hospitals, to separate men from women in the classroom.”


The subjects that women will choose to study will also be reviewed by the Taliban.


The Taliban has gone door to door in several provinces of Afghanistan, distributing hijabs and headscarves to women, marking a gross violation of a woman’s right to wear what she chooses to.


Over 200 female judges of Afghanistan have had to go into hiding after the Taliban released convicted rapists and murderers, previously arrested members of the Taliban, from the jails, who have now begun to issue death threats to these said judges.


The Taliban has also replaced the Ministry for Women’s Affairs, with the Ministry of Vice and Virtue, the latter being a part of the previous Taliban rule, too, which dealt with Islamic laws and advocating measures like cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning to death those who engaged in illegal intercourse. Currently, there is no women member in the Interim Cabinet of the Taliban.


All of this, coupled with the whitewashing of the advertisements, threatens that the new ‘moderate face’ of the Taliban is merely just a sham and that nothing has, indeed, changed.


As witnessed in the previous Taliban regime, from 1996 to 2001, women faced the worst brunt of the enforcement of Taliban rules.


Laws dictated that women be in a hijab at all times, that they could not go out in public without a male escort. Women were denied employment opportunities anywhere except as medical workers. Women would have their entire fingernails uprooted, at the slightest presence of nail paint. Girls above the age of 15 and widows below the age of 45 were allegedly made to marry by force. Any shift from the rules and the consequences could have ranged from anything from public flogging to execution.


Domestic grievances of women were not heeded at all, rendering women and their issues invisible.


There was no Ministry designed to address the issues of women, which invited mistreatment of them both within and without the boundaries of their homes.


Thus, invisible outside their homes, and metaphorically, within. These women are being excluded entirely from public lives, with laws dictating their disappearance from social life. Women must be escorted by male members of their families while outside; this not only erases them from the public eye but also, renders it impossible for them to voice opinions and protests if and when faced with dishonor, abuse, or tyranny.


 As in the case of most, if not all, wars, it is feared that women are yet again going to be made the first and most brutal targets of the militant regime. As Khaled Hosseini wrote, in his brilliant and haunting depiction of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan in his book, “A Thousand Splendid Suns”,


“Like a compass facing north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman.


Always.”


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