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WOMENS WORDS

A country where it’s a crime to be a woman

Today I am talking from a country where it’s a crime to be a woman.


Hardly a day goes by without more bad news and restrictions on women. The suffering that the women of Afghanistan have endured, women have not suffered in any other land throughout history.


Today I am presenting a report from a country in which women don’t have access to their essential rights of education, work or free movement. But if women ask about those rights, the answer will be beating, arresting or killing.


Today I am raising my voice for women and girls from a country in which the Minister of Higher Education said, at the graduation ceremony of the students of a religious center, that those who write/talk against, and/or resist the Taliban deserve to be murdered.


This includes both online and offline criticism of their regime.


They actively search every single home, even searching the phone, laptop and all private things to see and find who is working against them. If yes, then they will arrest, beat or kill them. No one has the right to complain.


But the Taliban don’t know that today’s women are not like women were during 1996–2001.


Today’s women strongly believe that “an educated mother builds a strong nation”. And they are stronger than their restrictions. These women are not afraid. Afghan women get stronger day by day, as they raise their voice against the Taliban to demand their own essential rights of education, work and free movement.


Today I am here to tell you that there are no HUMAN rights and there are no WOMEN’S rights in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s control.


From inside Afghanistan, my plea is that you don’t forget us.


My story is the story of thousands of other women who live under Taliban control. Afghan women are heroes. We are dying every day, but we are never giving up.


Since the Taliban regime overtook the country in mid-August 2021, Afghanistan's record on women's rights has been manifestly one of (if not the) worst, worldwide. Despite promises to “uphold women's rights in line with Sharia law”, from the very first weeks of its rule, the Taliban started suppressing the rights of their citizens, with women the main target of restrictions.


As well as prohibiting women and girls from traveling without a male relative, the Taliban have also denied them post-primary education, banned them from numerous public places and restricted their employment to healthcare and primary education. In December 2022, women were also banned from working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in most sectors.


Then, in early April 2023, the Taliban extended the ban to include Afghan women working for the United Nations Mission in the country. This crackdown on women's rights has attracted considerable international condemnation, including from Muslim states. In response to the regressive policies, many international donors have reduced or threatened to halt their humanitarian assistance, upon which the country is strongly reliant. It is feared that women could, unintentionally, be those most impacted by this reduction or suspension of humanitarian aid.


The Taliban nevertheless appears inflexible, leaving international actors with a dilemma as to how to proceed. Afghanistan is not the only country where women’s rights are being rolled back. But what is happening should ring alarm bells for all of us; it shows how decades of progress on sex equality and women's rights can be literally wiped out in months.


As you read or watch the news about women's rights in Afghanistan, unfortunately, it is an accurate, if not less dire, picture of our reality.


Today, Afghanistan is at a critical juncture. It is the only country in the world where women don't have access to basic rights such as education, work, or free movement.


There are countless unsolved problems facing Afghan women, but because of restrictions, women can't share their stories with each other. And on the other side, there is no ear, no organization, and no group to hear the problems women face. Afghan women are entirely isolated.


The Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan in August 2021 has once again brought women's rights into the spotlight. It is increasingly clear that the current Taliban regime intends to make a doctrinaire and restricted vision of women's position in society central to its blueprint for the country's future.


To make sense of this moment, it helps to discuss the Taliban’s history.


I’ll start with the year I was born.


I was a newborn baby during the Taliban’s early ruling years, and I wasn’t aware of how women were treated then. But last year, my grandmother, mother, and sisters heaved with grief as they reopened old boxes of burqas they had packed away 20 years ago. They told me unbelievable stories about the horrible ways women were treated.


My grandmother shared how the Taliban entered Afghanistan back then, at a time when fewer men and women were educated. The Taliban leveraged the name of Islam and the conditions of traditional society to manipulate uneducated people. They were particularly cruel to women. “People can’t just forget or forgive all the killings,” my grandmother said. “Almost every family in Afghanistan now knows of somebody or has a family member who was killed by the Taliban.”


The golden years: 2001–2021


Despite my country’s many issues, 2001–2021 was a golden time for Afghan women. The Taliban was ousted, and women started to learn about their rights and gained autonomy in their lives. I was one of those girls whose life was changed for the better. Despite our relatives' objections, my parents enrolled me in school, and I was the first girl in our extended family to attend.


Our relatives said that I shouldn’t go to school past the age of 12. But my parents didn't listen to them. “We had a hard time, but we don’t want a hard time for our children,” they said. “We want a bright future for you – especially our daughters.” I continued to the university, where I graduated in [removed for personal safety]


This is not to say women's lives were easy in Afghanistan. Traditional society, wars and Taliban law continued in some regions – and many girls were shut out of education. Still, life was better than it is now.


A return to Taliban rule: 2021 to the present


When the Taliban returned to power on August 15, 2021, I was in my early twenties. Every day since then, I’ve woken up with a heavy chest. I see the four walls around me and nothing more. Day by day, the Taliban has announced new restrictions on women.


Before the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, I was working [removed for personal safety] in a private office. But after the arrival of the Islamic government, everything fell apart. The office I had worked in closed four days after the Taliban took over. Many of my coworkers were arrested by the Taliban, and we received messages that they were searching for other office members via their phone signal. We immediately had to break our SIM cards and burn documents to hide our identities.


Right now, today


I can see the city and the bazaar from the window, but nothing is the same as before; no women are milling about, and the city has taken on an eerie silence. The city is covered in black. If women wear colored clothing, the Islamic government will beat them. With my own eyes, I saw a Taliban member beat a girl with a gun because her body was not covered from her head to her toes.


I hoped to have a promising future, but it now feels dark. I want to go back to the past and breathe easy. I cannot wear the clothes I want; I cannot freely go where I want. This life for Afghan girls is one of prisoners who do not know when they will be released.


Today’s women are not like the women of 1996 and 2001. Today’s women know about their rights and have the power of education to raise their voices worldwide to take action. Today’s women want to be heard. They want you to know that under the Taliban, women do not have freedom of movement; women cannot participate in public life or politics; women are not able to be active in civil society; indeed, women are totally removed from society.


We used to have access to a nationwide network of shelters and services for those facing sex-based violence, including legal representation, medical care, and psychosocial support. And it served thousands of women and girls each year. As the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, this system collapsed.

I hear the situation is more horrible in some areas and provinces, where women don’t have access to the internet, mobile phones, or any education. There are reports the Taliban has taken cruel actions such as kidnapping, targeted killings, killing by stoning, and forced marriages.


Still, we are fighting for our rights.


I have heard horror stories from other women activists who have been arrested by the Taliban. For example, one said the Taliban badly beat them and their male relatives.


“We were like a fish out of water for several days,” another woman recounted. The only food they received was old bread. “I gave it to my kids to keep them alive. My kids were thirsty: there was no water. There was a bin where the women of the Taliban washed their dishes. I used this water for my kids to drink. They were crying because it was so dirty.”


She continued, “The Taliban searched our Facebook, searched our calls, all our laptop documents. They played our messages and asked about them. ‘Where are your other friends?’ they said, ‘You must help us find them.’ We were released by making a promise: ‘After this day, we won’t do anything against the Taliban.’”


My role as an activist


I am one of the women activists living in Afghanistan under the direct threat of the Taliban. The Taliban actively search for all who work or talk against them. I am in danger, but I can’t stop. The Taliban are lying, and they just want to fight for power. I am in hiding, fighting for my life and the lives of other women.


I know the Taliban are searching for me, and it’s easy for the Taliban to kill those groups who work or talk against them. Because of me, my siblings and parents are also under direct threat. We are not safe. I work to hide my identity and my parents’ identity.


Currently, I am hiding from the Taliban, but one day they will kill me or my family members.


Afghan women urgently need health services, humanitarian assistance, and justice. I will continue this struggle with my pen and ink, raising my voice for Afghan women.


It is now 626 days since the Taliban banned teenage girls from school. Afghanistan remains the only country in the world where women and girls are denied their basic human rights.


Brave Afghan women are still protesting in the streets of Kabul – despite the Taliban crackdown on demonstrations. They continue to demand their basic human rights.


Banning women and girls from education by the Taliban is a crime against humanity.


Like thousands of others, I did not give up working and raising my voice for Afghan women, even in a very horrible situation. I will continue this struggle with my pen and ink.


In such a hopeless situation, in which schools are closed to female students, we still continue our work and have done since August 2021. Volunteer groups of young and educated members of our society, under the name ‘Yal Bano’s group’, help female students from inside our homes. From school grades 7–12 we teach them different subjects via online training programs as secret online schooling. And still today, 500 students are learning or have graduated from our online program.


Also, as women can’t go work outside home, there is a very bad impact upon their families’ economic situations.


We still try to help and provide food and meet other urgent needs for those families which live in a very hard economic situation. And still we have 1,000 families in our records who urgently need food and humanitarian assistance.

What we do for girls and women is friendly humanitarian work. We don’t want to become famous and we don’t want to make profits. We just want to help each other and together make a positive change.


Our work is totally private, hidden and friendly inside our homes. We are connecting via the internet. So it’s a very safe way for us all to continue our program.


What we want – a call to action


Ultimately, we all know very well the problems Afghan women face, so there is no need for more explanation. There is a great need for action.

  • From inside Afghanistan, my plea is that you don’t forget us.

  • Please stand with Afghan women. Afghan women need action.

  • Please don’t recognize the Taliban.

  • Please let Afghan women learn.

  • Please help us in such a horrible situation.

  • Please help Afghan families with food and humanitarian assistance.

With your help and support you will save a family from hunger, you will save a daughter from child forced marriage, you will save a father from selling a body part to provide food for his family.


As women and girls in Afghanistan, based on Taliban rule, we should be home at all times and don’t even have the right of breathing: the only responsibility of mine is babymaker and babysitter.


Things I can no longer do


I can’t go outside alone without a male relative from my home.


I can’t go to school over the age of 12.


I can’t go to university or the gym or park.


I can’t be an engineer or pilot or singer or athlete.


I can’t go work, except as doctors or nurses in some hospitals.


I can’t go to male doctors for treatment.


I can’t deal with male shopkeepers.


I should wear a long burqa which covers me from head to toe.


I can’t talk or shake hands with non-mahram (close family or spouse) males.


I can’t laugh loudly. (No stranger should hear a woman's voice).


I can’t ride in a taxi without a mahram.


I can’t present or speak in radio, television or public gatherings. But if I did I would have to cover my face during any TV program.


I can’t play sports or enter a sports center or club.


I can’t ride bicycles or motorcycles, even with a mahram.


I am banned from listening to music – this applies not only to women, but men as well.


There is a ban on male tailors taking women's measurements or sewing women's clothes.


In addition:

  1. They must not perfume themselves.

  2. They must not wear adorning clothes.

  3. They must not wear thin clothes.

  4. They must not wear narrow and tight clothes.

  5. They must cover their entire bodies.

  6. Their clothes must not resemble men's clothes.

  7. Muslim women's clothes must not resemble non-Muslim women's clothes.

  8. Their foot ornaments must not produce sound.

  9. They must not wear sound-producing garments.

  10. They must not walk in the middle of streets.

  11. They must not go out of their houses without their husband's permission.

  12. They must not talk to strange men.

  13. If it is necessary to talk, they must talk in a low voice and without laughter.

  14. They must not look at strangers.

  15. They must not mix with strangers.


Read our translated version

Spanish Translation - Un país donde es delito ser mujer
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