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Women dressed in full length Burqas in the Middle East.

The Trials of Being a Woman in Afghanistan

September 2, 2022

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As a teenage girl in America, there are a few things that I take for granted. For one, I got my driver’s license over the summer so I now have the freedom to transport myself places. For another, I am looking at colleges and making plans for my career path once I graduate high school.

Unfortunately, 61 million other girls across the world don’t have the same opportunities that I do, and 850,000 of them live in Afghanistan.

On Aug. 15, 2021, the Taliban, a radical, extremist terrorist group that had slowly been overtaking Afghan communities throughout Afghanistan, marched into the capital, Kabul. That same day, women were told to stay home, cover themselves in a full-length covering called a burqa, and not go out in public without a male family member to escort them. These declarations set Afghan women back decades.

For some women, this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. In 1996, the Taliban had restricted girls’ access to both education and healthcare, a move that crippled Afghanistan’s economy. According to Huffpost.com, in 2009 only 15% of the Afghan workforce was female, with most being forced to stay home and raise children.

All that changed in late 2001 when the United States and its allies invaded the country, freed it from Taliban rule, and eventually instituted American freedoms and democratic values. By 2019, under a democratic government elected by the people and overseen by American military forces, the number of women in the workforce had risen to nearly 22%. Many women were employed by women-owned companies, all of which were forced to close or move online when the Taliban retook the country (after America withdrew its forces in last August) and reasserted their values on society. This article details the many ways in which the Taliban mistreats women, including forcing them to cover their faces in public and executing them for wearing tight clothing.

The restrictions of women in the workplace are putting new pressures on Afghan families. Khadija*, a woman who spoke to Huffpost, stated that she was “the sole income [earner] for her family of six.” After the Taliban banned women from working as criminal defense attorneys (a job which had required Khadija to earn a degree in Islamic law and pass a bar exam) the income earners for her family dropped from one, to none. She eventually went back to work while trying to follow the harsh restrictions the Taliban enforced, which included banning her from communicating with men who are not Mahram, or closely-related to her.

The punishments for defying the Taliban are harsh. According to the BBC, “the Amr-bil-Maroof (the Taliban’s ruling group which literally means “order the good”)… [enforce] the social rules [with] a two-strike rule. First a warning, second a punishment– public humiliations, prison, beatings, lashes.” These punishments are also a call-back to when the Taliban Emirate was first in power, when the Amr-bil-Maroof terrorized Afghan women who dared to speak out.

However, even with these threats and restrictions, girls are speaking out. UNWomen.org chronicles the lives of Afghan women whose lives have changed drastically, but are still figuring out how to get their education and work at their jobs. Najiba*, a former university lecturer and counselor is still working with traumatized women. Nasima*, encouraged by the memories of the first Taliban rule, continues to work as a women’s rights activist and elevate women’s voices. Zarina*, one of Afghan’s youngest entrepreneurs, had to move her bakery online, but is still in business as of last month). These women are encouraging the next generation, those who have had their education brutally ripped away from them.

On March 23, 2022, hundreds of girls, excited for the start of school, made their way to local schools. They were greeted with armed guards blocking their entrance. Even though the schools followed Muslim rules and only girls were allowed in, the Taliban had decided to close all grades from 7th to 12th. According to the United States Institute of Peace, the Taliban originally stated that they would allow girls to go to school, but they have since retracted thei promise the day that schools were supposed to open. A girl who spoke to an Afghan news station, TOLOnews, shared her despair at schools being closed for over 280 days.

The worst part of schools being closed to girls is that boys’ schools opened on Sept. 18, 2021, only a month after the takeover. The Taliban kept promising to open schools for girls, but never followed through on their promises. NPR states that girls’ schools are now closed for an indefinite period of time.

The Taliban justified their closure of schools by stating that the education of girls goes against Sharia law. This implies that education for girls and women is frowned upon by Afghanistan citizens. However, according to an article by G. Siann and R. Khalid, there is no basis for this, and Islamic law actually promotes female education and equality. This sentiment is echoed by the Afghan nation, where they actually encourage their girls to learn as well as the boys. It is only the Taliban that restricts the education of girls and women.

Not everyone has let this closure affect their spirits. Some young women have opened underground schools where they study with each other or tutor younger girls in subjects that they have already learned. Underground schools have popped up in neighborhoods across Afghanistan, and, according to NPR, are thriving. Some schools are in basements while others are disguised as religious schools that just happen to teach the same subjects as regular high schools.

Although these restrictions are terrible, they are also reminders of the good in the world. Many countries have refused to acknowledge the Taliban’s government if they do not give girls access to education. Many girls are taking the initiative and opening their own schools across Afghanistan. This resilience is a beacon of hope for everyone across the globe.

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About the Contributor
Photo of Kessler Potter
Kessler Potter, Journalist

Kessler is in 11th grade, this is her first year in Journalism. She is on the golf and speech team. In her free time, she enjoys reading or playing games...

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