Afghan women demonstrate resilience

Women in Afghanistan continue to advocate for their rights despite violent repression


Courtesy of the New York Times

As the Taliban government in Afghanistan continues to place restrictions upon women’s rights such as education, Afghan women resort to protesting by holding strikes, even in the face of violence.

Paulina Hernandez, Contributing Columnist

 In Aug. 2021, the Taliban officially took control of the Afghan government for the first time since 2001. The Taliban’s first measure of asserting government dominance was to pull back on women’s rights. Not only have they denied women their rights by impeding their access to education, but they have also forcibly stopped thousands of women from working through threats of termination, confining them to their homes. In recent months, several small groups of Afghan women have responded to the Taliban’s actions by protesting and striking back against the totalitarian regime, despite fears of being harmed or “disappearing.” 

It is disheartening to see how other women are treated in foreign countries — I could have easily been in their shoes if I were born into a different family. Nevertheless, it is also empowering to see these women coming together to stand up against an oppressive figure of patriarchal authority. Afghan women have continued to protest against the Taliban even after government officials invaded their meetings, threatened and insulted them, aimed loaded guns in their direction and called them “puppets of the West” and “whores”. 

Many women have also begun to hold strikes and protests outside Kabul University, resulting in the Taliban physically shocking protesters with electrical devices, spraying chemicals similar to pepper spray into the surrounding air, and physically assaulting peaceful protesters. 

Although women protesting against the Taliban continue to be physically and verbally assaulted, the will of Afghan women to fight for their rights remains, despite the fact that they have endured more than six months of persecution by the Taliban. Afghan women are by no means withdrawing into the shadows as the government wants them to. Afghan women are inspiring not only me but millions worldwide with their sheer strength and determination as they refuse to back down. 

Nevertheless, in response to the protests, the Taliban is pursuing efforts to prohibit peaceful protests and restrict free speech in Afghanistan. As the country’s humanitarian crisis escalates, aid cutoffs create shortages of cash, food, water, shelter and other necessities provided by donor countries. Not only did this cause the nation to enter an emergency state, but it also triggered the “collapse of [Afghan women’s] rights and dreams and [introduced] risks to their basic survival, per University of California, Santa Cruz PhD student Halima Kazem Stojanovic. 

The slow advancement of women’s rights in Afghanistan has been put to an abrupt halt since the Taliban took control of Ghazni on Aug. 12, 2021. Before then, women could work in the government and attend university and graduate school. Now, the Taliban forbids young girls to finish high school, let alone achieve higher education. As a result of the Taliban becoming increasingly authoritative, women all over the country have gone into hiding, terrified to be interviewed, because more women’s rights advocates and activists are ‘disappearing’ around the country, as stated by NGOs such as Human Rights Watch. 

One can only imagine how Afghan women are feeling at this point. All of the hard work the Afghan government and women have poured towards improving women’s rights has seemingly been erased, and the nation has reverted to the horrific condition it was in before the 2001 reconstruction effort. 

I think it should be noted that neither my peers nor I have seen any coverage of these atrocities on social media or the news. I find this appalling 

because the oppression of women in Afghanistan has been an ongoing issue for at least 20 years. Yet it seems like the media does not find this to be of much importance. This is most likely attributed to the fact that President Biden announced all American troops would vacate the country by Sep. 11, 2021. Without media coverage of the events occurring in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s agenda will not be as well documented, leaving Afghan women in the hands of abusive, merciless Taliban members. 

I believe the best way to remove the Taliban from commanding the Afghan government is for the United States to intervene using military force and overthrow Taliban leaders from their positions of power. While I am not one to advocate for violence in conflict, I am convinced that this method would be successful. The United States utilized a very similar approach in 2001, succeeding in removing Al-Qaeda — who was under the protection of the Taliban — from the government. 

Although I usually never condone violence, I know that this crisis will only fester if left alone, resulting in the suffering of innocent women all over the country. Therefore, it is best to take action swiftly and carefully to eliminate the oppressive actors from controlling the government. Furthermore, it is evident that these women are reaching out to western countries, as many signs used in protests are written in English. For example, during a peaceful protest on Sept. 3, 2021, several Afghan women held signs saying: “why is the world watching us silently and cruelly?” Oppressive regimes depriving citizens of their rights can no longer go unnoticed. It is up to countries who are capable of helping those in need to take action and protect human rights. 

I stand with Afghan women protesting the Taliban. All individuals, regardless of gender, should be able to receive an education, work, and travel publicly without the accompaniment of a male guardian. No one should be forced to remain in their home. All women must have the right to the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom to choose how they want to live their lives. 

I encourage all those who hold the same beliefs as I do to speak up: share what you have learned with friends, family, and loved ones.