Afghanistan’s horizons are narrowing: “Women feel it’s all over”

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isFor two months, Parwana estimates that she has crossed the threshold of her house perhaps four times. She left early in the morning for a job that supported her whole family, then took an evening class.

After the Taliban took control of Kandahar, its director told him not to come to work and his university has yet to determine how to organize the gender-specific classes they were asking for.

Many people praised the calm that settled in the city after the brutal end of the war, but for Parwana, as a young, unmarried woman, the streets patrolled by Taliban soldiers are filled with threats. “Now I’m afraid to go out. I wasn’t before.

“I thought I was someone, that I could do something for my family and help others. Now I can’t even support myself anymore, ”she said. “The women here feel like it’s all over for them. “

The Taliban leadership, hungry for international recognition and funds, has been wooing the world for years by promising that the group has fundamentally changed its stance on women’s rights.

When their fighters seized Kabul, spokesman Zabihullah Mujiahid promised within days that women would have the right to education and work, within an Islamic framework that the group has not yet defined.

Over the weeks, without further clarification, evidence on the ground in Afghanistan suggests that they are considering a form of apartheid between the sexes. Women may be offered certain rights, but they will be expected to study and work in a sphere so completely detached from that of the men who run the country, the economy and all major sectors that their lives will still be. severely reduced.

Niamatullah Hassan, the new Taliban mayor of Kandahar, says he has two women back to work in his administration, on a municipal team of 1,200 people. It will allow more female employees, once they can be isolated from the men and central government approves.

“I am ready to increase the number of women workers, we plan to prepare a separate workplace for them, a safe environment for them,” he said.

Health and education workers are mostly still in their desks, although some in Kandahar have been ordered to wear the burqas, but all other women have been ordered to stay at home indefinitely. “security” reasons. The Observer urged senior officials across the country in interviews to get a date when women will be allowed to return to work across the country. Most postpone the issue or offer a vague promise of “soon”. Afghan women are skeptical; in the 1990s, the group used the same excuse to ban them from working during their five years in office.

In education, too, there are many promises from leaders, but women’s experience is made up of restrictions. Although some private universities have opened their doors, with students strictly separated by sex, a shortage of teachers or students will close many subjects to women.

In Kandahar, Zainab is one of two girls taking a science course, and her university has previously said it is uneconomical to teach them separately from the men. She is one semester away from the end, but does not know if she will ever graduate. “I am so sad, so disappointed. “

Gulalai is happy to study medicine because the Taliban allows female doctors to work, but she is gloomy about the quality of her degree. “There aren’t many female students, so we’re not going to have expert teachers, we’re going to have inexperienced young people. “

Some state universities say they just can’t cope. “The Taliban talk about segregation but we are one of the biggest and best equipped universities in Afghanistan, and we still don’t have the capacity to do it,” said a professor at Herat University, who once had a majority of female students; many have already given up.

“There are departments that do not have a professor at all or have only a few, but with a lot of students. How can we function if we are to have a woman teacher for women and a man for men? “

The devastation isn’t just in the cities, either. Women from one of Kandahar’s most violent neighborhoods, who were working on an education program with Parwana, called her in tears. The Taliban leadership’s promises of primary education for girls mean nothing to the die-hard fighters who control their region. “They said ‘it was just a dream for us for a year and a half that our daughters could get an education.’ Now they have to start following all the orders they get from men and doing chores again. “

There is no doubt that the Taliban have changed women’s rights from when they ruled Afghanistan 25 years ago, when they banned women from education and almost all work. But their old regime was so appallingly misogynistic that even the reformed Taliban still leave Afghanistan with the world’s worst systemic oppression of women. There is no other place where a near-blanket ban has been imposed on working women, where politics has been banned by an all-male cabinet, and where the future of women’s secondary education is not clear.

“It is important that the international community is not in too much of a hurry to applaud if and when the Taliban make any concessions, such as allowing girls to go to primary school,” said Heather Barr, deputy director of the children’s division. women’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “We need to keep an eye out for the fact that what is happening in Afghanistan now is a massive setback in women’s rights, compared to the way women and girls lived just a month ago. It is devastating – and unacceptable – that we can see this happen in 2021. ”

Map of Afghanistan showing Kandahar province

Promises of a new approach to women’s rights are carried by elders and pragmatists in the leadership, who saw what happened to the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s when it was internationally isolated and cut off from foreign aid that funds much of the country’s health, education and other essential services.

The message from the Taliban leadership at all levels of the new government is clear. “We need the international community to invest here and finance us, for development projects in the city, we really need their support,” said the mayor of Kandahar Hassan.

The memo traveled to Panjwai, a rural district of tobacco fields and pomegranate orchards outside of Kandahar, and one of the first Taliban strongholds.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan stands ready to work with the international community to create an inclusive government. We will support the education of women, we will support the work of women, ”said Panjwai district commander Faizani Mawlawi Sahab, who had spent 20 years fighting in the district, losing hundreds of men in the name of ‘a harsh view of Islam.

“We listen to all of our leaders and obey all decisions and orders. We will give the rights of every human being in the country, men, women and children.

Yet a growing gap between those promises and the harsh reality for women on the ground has been recorded across the country, Deborah Lyons, head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, told the Security Council this week. UN.

“We are increasingly receiving reports that the Taliban have banned women from appearing in public places without male chaperones and prevented women from working. They have limited girls’ access to education in some areas and dismantled women’s affairs departments across Afghanistan, while targeting women’s NGOs.

Afghan women have repeatedly stated that they are ready to compromise in many areas, but not the right to education and to earn a living.

“Many, many women have lost men in this conflict, the only option for them is to work,” Parwana said. “It doesn’t matter if they don’t let us go to the bazaar or to enjoy a picnic. But they have to let us work, because otherwise how are we going to feed our children? “

A reminder of the power of international pressure came in an apparent withdrawal, or at least a pause for thought, to women’s cricket. The Taliban said they would not allow women’s cricket, Australia said they would cancel an upcoming men’s test match if the ban was upheld, and then the Afghan cricket president said no final decision was made. ‘had been taken.

In Kandahar, women see this pressure as perhaps the only hope for change. “Tell the world to put more pressure on the Taliban to remove these rules, to change their attitudes,” Gulalai said. “If I don’t have a job and don’t have the right to study, I don’t care. This security is only for the Taliban.

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