Have we already forgotten about Afghanistan?

Seven months after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, there’s not much news published any longer. Of course, the past month, most has been about the war in Ukraine. That is understandable, but we must not forget that there are still crises going on elsewhere at the same time.

The situation in Afghanistan is still severe, even if humanitarian agencies have managed to distribute enough aid to avert famine and starvation. The winter is now coming to an end, but nearly 20 million Afghans have received aid during the last six months. Without rapid change of the system, it means time is bought for now, but the crisis will return next winter.

The situation for women is worse than ever, since they have not been allowed to return to work since he Taliban came back in power. The exception is teachers and health staff, but even if they are allowed to work, they are not paid. Previously women were even denied begging, just because they are women (see hrw report)

In families where the main, or sole, breadwinner is a woman, it causes huge problems of feeding their families. On top it is hard to access cash, even for those who has savings. The limit of weekly cash withdrawals is very severe, and inflation is high.

Fayzabad, Afghanistan, November 26th, 2008 – Two Afghan Woman in Burkas.
2021: The return of the burka.
Photo: istockphoto.com

Taliban has also revoked the freedom of movement of women. They are no longer allowed outside their home without mahram, which means male escort. Even going to a health clinic for women, to be treated by a female doctor, needs a male escort, because to register requires interaction with a man at the “reception desk”, and he refuses to speak to women directly.

“A former medical student accompanied her pregnant sister-in-law to the doctor. “The Taliban didn’t let us enter the clinic because we didn’t have a mahram,” she said, adding that the appointment was with a female doctor and the clinic was segregated by gender inside. To enter the facility, however, they had to register and receive a card and the person handling this process was a man. Taliban rules prohibited him from interacting with women, and only permitted him to speak with their mahram. The women were forced to call the interviewee’s brother, who arrived an hour later, to register them. “They don’t even have mercy on pregnant women, let alone others,” the student said. “This is so humiliating.”

Taliban has also forbidden taxi drivers to pick up women travelling alone. This makes it impossible to escape a violent husband. Not that the women have any place to take refuge, since Taliban has also closed down all shelters for women, in addition to close down Ministry for Women’s Affairs. In its place they reinstated the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. This ministry is known from the last period of Taliban rule to be extremely severe in their pursuit and punishment of women who do not behave according to their standards.  

When they came to power in August 2021, the Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said that “our sisters, our men have the same rights”, but it was soon enough clear that this is certainly not the case. The fear of reprisals if not modestly enough dressed, has also forced most women back into the burka, when they have to leave their house.

Recently secondary schools for girls were said to open again, just to be closed again the same day. Since Taliban came back, girls are only allowed to attend school up to 6th grade.

An empty classroom illustrating the closed girls’ schools.
Photo: unsplash.com

Education is vital for a country’s development, and as of current only 43% of the Afghan population is literate. That is an improvement, but it still means that 57% are illiterate. This is not likely to improve in the near future, with a government who is more interested in religious education than literacy and science. It seems like it is more important to the Taliban that people can recite the Koran, and know the “proper way of dress and behaviour”, than give them a proper education.

Already several ministries are closed due to a lack of qualified people, as those who were qualified have fled the country or stay away out of fear for reprisals.

This is a sure way to keep Afghanistan a poor and backwards country, with no prospect of developing any time soon. It also means the population is doomed for poverty, joblessness and a constant struggle of feeding their families. It also means that the conditions for girls and women will not improve in the near future.

Taliban is trying to brand themselves more “modern” towards the outside world, but we shall not be fooled by their attempts at doing so. Inside Afghanistan they have imposed strict rules on journalism, and it is forbidden to say anything “contrary to Islam” or that “insult national figures”.

So far about 40% of the Afghan media sources have shut down, and the latest is that local channels are ordered not to broadcast content for international partners, which all in all drastically limit the accessibility to news.

It is important that we do not forget about Afghanistan and the poor situation for its inhabitants, especially the women and children. The Taliban needs to be pressured by the outside world to grant all its inhabitants their human rights, freedom of movement and free speech, and their barbaric methods of punishment must be stopped immediately.

Featured image: Wanman Uthmaniyyah, unsplash.com

Sources/further reading:

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/afghanistan

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/09/29/list-taliban-policies-violating-womens-rights-afghanistan

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/09/29/afghan-women-frightening-return-vice-and-virtue

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/18/afghanistan-taliban-deprive-women-livelihoods-identity

https://text.npr.org/1046952381

https://theconversation.com/afghan-women-face-increasing-violence-and-repression-under-the-taliban-after-international-spotlight-fades-176008

https://theconversation.com/taliban-2-0-arent-so-different-from-the-first-regime-after-all-173394

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/23/afghan-journalists-taliban-rules-restricting-role-women-on-tv

https://www.dw.com/en/taliban-are-revoking-afghan-womens-hard-won-rights/a-60283590

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-60893054

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-60845540

Trying to piece it together…

Three weeks into the war in Ukraine it seems hard to predict the outcome, except for the fact that Ukraine will be left in ruins. What we all hope for is that the Ukrainians will get out of this war as a free and democratic country. And perhaps it should be added that a lot of us also hope for the fall of Putin as a consequence of his totally unjustified attack on Ukraine.

What we do already see the contours of, is a new approach in the West towards securing their own energy supplies, to be able to get out of the Russian grip. We have also been reminded of how vulnerable we are as Ukraine and Russia are the leading suppliers of wheat, sunflower seeds, gas and ingredients for making fertilizer. The war, in addition to the recent pandemic, has already caused shortages, and experts warn of even higher prices of food as farmers all over the world will face shortages of fertilizer, resulting in less productivity and thereby higher prices. The higher prices of food, fuel and electricity are already duly noted by consumers everywhere.

The question now is, how are we going to meet the challenges we are facing? For sure, not being dependent of oil and gas from Russia is a good start. Will it be a push to the green shift, or not? It has also become evident that supply chains can be highly unreliable, and so it has sparked a debate about self-sufficiency in some countries, like in Norway.

High food prices is of great concern all over the world. For the middle class, they might be able to re-prioritise their spending, e.g. cut down on “luxury” spending like vacations, new furniture, and new cars. For the poorer segment of society, it will add to their hardship. They do not have much to spend in the first place. Increased prices on both energy, fuel and food will hit them very hard. What will the various governments do to ease their strain? Because if nothing is done, there will be a risk of violent protests, like the Yellow Vest movement we saw in France only a few years ago, or the Egyptian revolution in 2011.

The Ukrainians are fighting for their sovereignty, freedom and democracy. Values that the West seems to take for granted, even though we have had a couple of reminders over the past few years that we should not. What happened in USA during the time Trump was president, and what happened after the 2020 elections should be carefully noted. Poland has also been moving in a less democratic direction lately, as have Viktor Orban’s Hungary. In France extreme right-wing candidates are ranking high on the polls before the upcoming elections this April. Perhaps Putin’s war in Ukraine will help undermine them, as we are now reminded of what extremism and despotism look like.

The Russian people are obviously asking themselves these days if they are heading back to the way of life they experienced in the Soviet Union. No freedom of speech, no Western import goods, restricted travel, high inflation etc. In other words, is Putin about to pull a new iron curtain between Russia and the West?

The young generation of Russians have grown up with access to everything we have in the West. Will they accept going backwards? Is there any chance they will be able to change the direction their country is about to take? Considering the massive protests against the war it certainly looks like they will not let themselves be oppressed without fight. Others are simply leaving their country.

Most European countries have decided to expand their military spending, in addition to seek solutions to an acute energy deficiency. They have also been very a wide consent regarding the sanctions against Russia, and what is at stake in a broader view. Democracy in itself is threatened. How are we going to cope with that?

Frankly speaking, I have more questions than answers these days. The latest news is that Putin has laid out his demands for peace, but the details are not yet known, adding to my list of questions.  

Whatever happens over the next weeks, the world will not be the same as it was before February 24, 2022.