From the January-February 2022 issue of News & Letters
Half a year after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban purges women from public life, brutally murders its opponents and has forced thousands to go underground or leave their country.
The statistics of economic collapse are appalling: 97% of the population of 38 million are expected to live in poverty in 2022; 18.4 million already rely on international aid. There are reports of families selling daughters as young as five into marriages for cash to buy oil and flour. Millions of children are already malnourished and a deadly famine looms. Only a few international aid groups remain as overwhelming need continues to increase.
Although local reporting is sharply curtailed, resistance is widespread and multi-dimensional. It is critically important to seek out and support those efforts by bringing their work to international attention.
Women have been especially creative:
⁕ Partnering with organizations like Unfreeze Afghanistan, “a new women-led campaign supporting the Afghan people’s wish to live in peace and prosperity,” which works to directly pay workers, circumventing aid to the Taliban.
⁕ Moving street protests to private homes. Activist Naeema Asadi said women were forced to abandon their street marches after the Taliban obtained a list of the protesters. “We turned to holding protests at home, so our voices are not silenced. A small group of women [hold] placards and speak on camera,” which they then try to get onto social media. The December 3 decree called for the enforcement of certain women’s rights that are enshrined in Islamic law. The Taliban abolished the Women’s Affairs Ministry and reestablished the brutal Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Afghan women’s rights activist Wazmah Frogh says, “we literally laugh at” the new Taliban decree on “women’s rights.”
⁕ Working from abroad or underground. Hundreds of women judges are living in fear and anonymity. Members of the Afghan Women’s Network report that girls and teachers banned from school have secret reading circles.
The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) issued a statement at their protest on International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10:
“The Taliban are pretending to be ‘changed’ in order to gain global financial and diplomatic support and the lifting of sanctions. How can one expect ‘change’ from a medieval and alien mercenary group whose whole existence is associated with murder, suicide, explosions and savagery? On the one hand, the U.S. and the West have imposed sanctions on the Taliban, on the other hand, they have romantic relations with Taliban officials and their diplomatic relations continue. These powers are again sacrificing the people of Afghanistan in order to swallow the last assets of the country. Afghan women know that they are at the forefront of the fight against fundamentalism and for freedom and justice. They say that there is no way out of the current situation except the struggle for justice.”
Freezing needed funds is a form of violence. To the excuse that releasing the $7 billion frozen funds would help the Taliban, one Afghan woman activist retorted, “So you would punish 38 million innocent people?” Revolutionary support groups must call out the real criminals—the powerful nations who created and perpetrate this human disaster.
—Susan Van Gelder
. Abubakar Siddique, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty’s Radio Azadi.