An Uphill Battle
Remaining hopeful in a war-torn country like Afghanistan is difficult but not impossible.
TBy Mariam Jalalzada he fight for the liberation of Afghan women has been an uphill battle for centuries. Despite tremendous achievements in the last ten years, the extreme violation of women’s rights continues, domestic violence and self-emulations are on the rise and the opposition forces against women’s progress remain influential. Although these and other factors, such as insecurity, the Taliban resurgence and the United States’ decision to withdraw its military forces in 2014, make the future of women’s struggle bleak, there are also reasons to remain hopeful, though rare.
After centuries of struggle for women’s rights, for every step forward there are one hundred steps back. Afghanistan continues to feature prominently on international gender inequality indexes (ranking 139 out of 145 in the UNDP’S Gender Inequality Index) and has one of the worst ratios of women to men in the secondary level of education. Women constitute only 8 percent of the labor force (even though their contribution to the rural economy is enormous) and remain subordinate to men in the household and the workplace. Their freedom in every sense, from choosing their husbands to their movement outside the privacy of their household, is severely curtailed. Whether during the modernization efforts in the nineteenth and twentieth century or the liberalization of the last decade, violent opposition continues to hamper women’s struggle for their rights.
Today however, a positive energy drives young Afghan women to stand taller, speak louder, and fight harder. This mentality, in many ways, was provoked by the harsh realities of the Taliban era. Many Afghan women fear that if the peace process is not handled with care, they will find themselves once again at the mercy of a group that is ultra-conservative, uneducated, and extremely restrictive towards women.
Prior to the Taliban’s taking over of the country and the protracted civil war, women were actively present in the political sphere as agents of egalitarian ideologies promoted by the communist regime and later served as the strongest critics of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Although their presence in political spheres diminished during the civil war, the Taliban’s complete ban on female education and employment shocked not only the people of Afghanistan but also the rest of the world.
Women were forbidden to leave their houses without a male escort, they were not allowed to seek medical care from a male doctor and were forced to cover themselves from head to toe. Flogging, stoning and public executions became commonplace methods the Taliban used for punishing those who did not abide by their rules. The image of a burqa-clad woman being shot in the head by the Taliban in Kabul’s Ghazi Stadium remains a shocking reminder of the Taliban’s atrocities.
Although many women were victimized many others resisted. Some women insisted on running homebased schools around the country.