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

Afghanistan, now what?

It’s been six weeks since Taliban took Kabul, in a swipe that surprised everybody, including American intelligence. The international soldiers, diplomats and others rushed out of the country. Yes, I know, President Biden had said that American troops would withdraw from Afghanistan within September 1st. But the plan, I assume, was not to hand the country over to Taliban.

Well, that is what happened, and now I wonder what will happen next. We do have some indications already. Women have disappeared from the streets, and those who are to be seen have put back the burqa. Female police officers are killed by the Taliban. Single women are forced to give up custody of the children to their in-laws. Women-only households are at even higher risk of being forced into marriage with Taliban soldiers. In many places girls’ schools are already closed, women are denied showing up at their workplace.

Activists, journalists and former soldiers are hunted down. The Taliban goes door-to-door to find them, and those who can hide or flee.

The UN estimates that 500 000 people will flee to the neighbouring countries before the end of the year. Worst case scenario they call it. I am, frankly speaking, surprised the estimation is not much higher. We are talking about a population of 38 million people.

The UN also says that 14 million people are at risk of starving to death. Normal people don’t have money. A lot have lost their jobs. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund has frozen the aid that has been flowing into the country for years. The World Bank states this is because they are worried about Taliban’s treatment of women. But who do they think a lack in health services and food shortage will harm first and foremost?

The army, the police force and all other people trained by the NATO troops, fled at the sight of Taliban troops. Was their training that bad? Or their moral that low?

The elected president and his government fled as well while they had the chance. Did they think that NATO would be present indefinitely to protect them? I ask, because I suspect that they were more interested in enriching themselves than actually govern and rebuilding the country.

I am worried about the situation, especially the situation for all the Afghan women and children. At least during the last 20 years, the literacy rate went up. A lot of girls got an education. Now it seems for nothing.

After hunting down Taliban and Osama bin Laden (who turned out to be hiding in Pakistan), there was a lot of shifting motives to keep NATO present in Afghanistan. Building a democracy, building schools, working for women’s rights, and the previously mentioned training of police and army.

I never felt it very honest, the reasons to stay on. At the same time, it seemed better for the Afghan population to keep the Taliban at bay. At least, the day all the troops left, we got the truth; the Americans didn’t stay on in Afghanistan for 20 years to rebuild the country or fight for human rights and women’s rights. They stayed “to keep America safe”.

Now, it seems to me that the world gives a damn about what is going to happen next. Statements like “we are worried about the situation” doesn’t seem very reassuring. I fear that as soon as the cameras are off and the journalists have left the room, world leaders let Afghanistan fall to the bottom of the to-do list.

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/series/women-report-afghanistan
Several of the articles listed here are used as sources.

https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/half-million-afghans-could-flee-across-borders-unhcr-2021-08-27/

https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/9/12/men-dont-protect-us-they-wont-respect-us-afghan-diaries?fbclid=IwAR1DxuAOvjJakAyxyPeSJZ8aQuzQkUcUB4kLsy8ROhXAzX3JEPB5gjkn1sc

https://www.nrk.no/urix/folk-i-afghanistan-star-uten-jobb-og-ber-om-hjelp-fra-det-internasjonale-samfunnet._-1.15664045

https://www.bistandsaktuelt.no/nyheter/2021/afghanistan—bistandsfrys–stenger-jenteskoler/