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Taliban conducts a war against women

by Cesar Chelala

Almost two years after the Taliban forces took power in most of Afghanistan, their attack on Afghan women continues unabated, impervious to international outrage. Although the Taliban claim that they want to create a “true” Islamic society in Afghanistan, its rule so far has been characterized by a medieval attack on people’s (particularly women’s) rights and freedoms. While nongovernmental international aid organizations such as Oxfam and Save the Children have had to cancel many of their projects, the Taliban have refused to heed the United Nations’ appeal for moderation in their treatment of women.

The Taliban have closed girls’ schools, prohibited women from working outside their homes and obliged them to cover their bodies with a “burqa,” including a mesh covering over their eyes. Those that do not follow those directives are beaten or shot. In addition, women are not allowed to work or even to go out in public without a male relative. Professional women such as lawyers, professors, translators, artists and writers have been forced out of their jobs and made to stay home.

To a large extent, even women physicians have been prohibited from working. Because women are not allowed to work out of their homes, those who don’t have husbands or male relatives are in a difficult position. Women’s visits to doctors, dentists and health clinics have been severely restricted, and male doctors are prohibited from seeing any unaccompanied women. Particularly helpless are Kabul’s estimated 60,000 widows, many among them with children to support.

Prohibition from working has led to the impoverishment of tens of thousands of women, and has probably played a role in the increasing number of street children. Aashiyana, a Swiss charity that provides education for street children, has estimated that there are 50,000 to 60,000 of them in Kabul. Aid workers with knowledge say that some street children are forced into prostitution to earn a living.

There are reports that women and children in Kabul are suffering from severe psychological disorders and depression. Some women commit suicide rather than live under Taliban rule or witness their children suffering from hunger or starving to death. These facts have been confirmed by a recent study of women in Kabul under the Taliban carried out by Physicians for Human Rights, an organization based in Boston. Of 160 women interviewed, 42 percent met the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, 97 percent had clinical symptoms of major depression and over 20 percent stated that they had seriously contemplated suicide. In addition, 69 percent stated that they or a family member had been detained and abused by the Taliban militia.

Many schools, government offices and hospitals have had to be shut down, since women make up 70 percent of Afghanistan’s teachers, 50 percent of civilian government workers and 40 percent of the country’s physicians. Women make up 65-75 percent of the Afghan population, since a huge number of men have been killed during the decades of civil war and Soviet occupation.

Amnesty International has denounced the public executions and amputations that are occurring with increasing frequency in Afghanistan. Defendants do not have the right to have a lawyer, verdicts are final and there are no mechanisms for appropriate judicial appeal. There are no indications that the Taliban will change its legal system. Mullah Haksar Akhund, a deputy interior minister, stated that punishments would not stop and said, “This is the word of God approved by the Prophet.”

What should be done to constrain a fanatic and ruthless regime and limit the damage it does to its own population? There should be no recognition of the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan by the U.N. and other governments as long as its human-rights abuses and discrimination against women continue. There should be a moratorium on international investment in the country, increased assistance to those leaving the country and, when allowed, to those still living in Afghanistan. The Taliban regime should be made into the international pariah it deserves to be.