By Evy Gallagher
Imagine if tomorrow, all the women at the University of Alabama were told to go back to their hometowns to live with their parents, unable to attend school or have a career, and were forced to wait until their elders found them a suitable husband.
In the United States, this kind of mandate would be unconstitutional and absolutely unacceptable, but in Afghanistan, this is women’s current reality. On Sunday, Aug. 22, The Taliban took control of Afghanistan for the second time in the past 25 years and reinstituted Shariah Law, a strict interpretation of the teachings of the Koran and the Muslim religion that can severely limit women’s rights, depending on how it’s enforced. For the women of Afghanistan, this is a recurring nightmare. Their basic human rights are in jeopardy, just as they were in 1996.
There has always been turmoil surrounding women’s rights in Afghanistan but it wasn’t until 1996 when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan that their rights truly came to a screeching halt. Women lived under Shariah Law. Women could not work, they could not attend school, they could no longer have healthcare and a Hijab, a head covering worn in public, had to be worn at all times, even covering their faces.
After Sept. 11, 2001, the day that changed the United States of America forever, US troops entered Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, to launch their military campaign while the Taliban was still in control. The twenty years thereafter that the American military stayed within the boundaries of Kabul, Afghan women gained their rights back. Within those two decades, women became doctors, attorneys, scientists, bankers, journalists—whatever they wanted to be. They pushed for women’s rights, took up roles within the government and held underground classes for Afghan girls. However, since the Taliban has recently ousted the Afghanistan government with virtually no fight, the Taliban has made it clear that their strict interpretation of Islamic Law will be reimplemented into the Afghan way of life.
Already, the Taliban has forced women to stay in their homes as a “safety protocol.” They cannot leave the house without a male guardian. According to CNN, Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that the current house arrest is only temporary, “just until new Taliban soldiers are trained not to disrespect or hurt women.” Mujahid insisted that women will be treated with respect and even allowed to continue their education. According to the New York Times, the Taliban said that women will have rights “within the bounds of Islamic Law.” It’s worth noting that the Taliban said the very same thing in 1996, only to break their promises.
For the past 20 years, these women in Afghanistan have been Americanized, meaning they have had similar civil rights and human rights that American women have. This has allowed them to become integral parts of Afghan society. So how does a society where women are some of its most valuable and capable leaders go from a twenty-first-century model of civil society back to a second-century model of religious dominance? Political analysts and even members of the Biden administration say this is an untenable situation.
“…Societies could not flourish and prosper without the full participation of women and girls back then, and they cannot flourish and prosper, without women and girls now,” Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy R. Sherman, said.
Though some experts believe that the Taliban takeover is just another bump in an already very hellish road. Assistant professor Edith Szanto at the University of Alabama said that Shariah Law and the Taliban are neither good nor bad. Szanto stated that it is yet the form of justice and lack of infrastructure that is the heart of the issue in Afghanistan.
One of the big topics in network news in recent weeks is something called brain drain: the emigration of highly trained or intelligent people from a particular country. In this case, that country is Afghanistan. Those fleeing will primarily be the country’s brightest females. According to the International Monetary Fund, the brain drain phenomenon has negatively affected other war-torn countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea. The effects have lasted decades. Afghanistan is now facing a similar future, which often ends up leading to civil war or becoming a failed state.
Many of us learned about a young Afghan girl named Malala Yousafazi who almost lost her life in the pursuit of education and subsequently wrote a famous book, “I am Malala,” detailing her fight for women’s rights against the Taliban. She recently graduated from Oxford University and her education can no longer be taken away from her. Women in the United States have been fortunate enough to never take a bullet from their oppressors in this way, simply to pursue their education, but imagine that all changing tomorrow.
The fact of the matter is that the women in Afghanistan are losing their freedoms one by one. Some people, like Szanto, believe that the Taliban takeover was an inevitable part of Afghanistan’s history. Others, like Sherman, believe this takeover will be detrimental to Afghanistan. Fortunately, there are ways to help these women. For more information, visit 3 Ways You Can Support Girls and Women in Afghanistan.