Fear and hopelessness over their right to education has engulfed women in Afghanistan as Taliban on Sunday took over Kabul in the wake of the United States’s troops exiting the country.
Conflicting reports are coming in about the Taliban’s stance on women’s rights and freedoms. On one hand, the Taliban have claimed that women have nothing to fear and that their rights will be respected. On the other, there is a long-standing history of the Taliban oppressing women since they first came to power in the country in 1996. When the group first rose to power, women were forced to cover themselves and their right to public spaces was visibly reduced. Now, as the US War on Terror that started two decades ago to avenge 9/11 draws to a close, several Afghan women have come out on Twitter to raise alarm over possible restricted rights such as access to education and work under the conservative Taliban leadership.
One user claimed that she was pursuing a degree in international relations, but it now seemed she won’t be able to achieve her dreams. Another Afghan woman, who is a university lecturer, resorted to a poetic description of her concerns. “The fear just sits inside your chest like a black bird. It opens its wings, and you can’t breathe,” she wrote.
I was pursuing my masters degree in International Relations. I wanted to become a university lecturer. But, it seems all my dreams are shattered.
— Shkula Zadran (@ShkulaZadran) August 15, 2021
The fear just sits inside your chest like a black bird. It opens its wings and you can't breathe.
— Muska Dastageer (@DastageerMuska) August 15, 2021
Like many Afghans attempting to escape the country, women too are looking for a way out. A Twitter user sought asylum in a country other than Pakistan. In a tweet, she claimed that she cannot wear a veil due to asthma and wants to flee Afghanistan because she would like to continue her education.
I am seeking asylum from any country other than #Pakistan I am a 22-year female student at Kabul University with a GPA of 4/4. My parents are retired teachers (A family of 3). I have asthma and CANNOT wear #Burqa (Chadari), and I want to finish my education. @CitImmCanada
— Aisha Ahmad (@AishaTaIks) August 15, 2021
After pouring her thoughts on Twitter regarding Taliban’s takeover, the same user cited security concerns in her Twitter bio and took down her own profile picture. She also tweeted that she was being threatened by some ‘official accounts’ and in the interest of safety, was going offline.
Due to getting some very serious threats from some official accounts, I have to go offline.
I am safe and my inbox is open.
— Aisha Ahmad (@AishaTaIks) August 16, 2021
The rising trepidations aren’t restricted to Afghanistan but women world over are coming out in allyship to report what Afghan women are saying about the takeover. Journalist Nasim Zehra from Pakistan claimed that there were reports of women being asked to return home from universities in Herat and Kabul.
Several reports of women in universities from Kabul 2 Herat being asked, in some cases by even taliban, to return home or asked 2 just stay at home.Afghan Women fear repeat of Taliban’s 90s aggressive & even violent anti-women policies. We must stand by r Afghan sisters.
— Nasim Zehra (@NasimZehra) August 16, 2021
Another Twitter member revealed that her Afghan friend has claimed that the Taliban were outside her window, making lists about women in governments and media.
Over the past hour, several Afghan female friends in Kabul told me the Taliban are in their neighbourhoods, going house to house, looking for women in govt and media, making lists. One sent me a photo from her living room showing armed Talibs outside. "I love you," she wrote. 💔
— Amie Ferris-Rotman (@Amie_FR) August 16, 2021
The user’s claims come after the first Afghan woman Mayor Zarifa Ghafari said that she was waiting for the Taliban to come and kill her.
”I’m sitting here waiting for them to come. There’s no one to help me or my family;they’ll come for people like me & kill me.” Chilling, heartwrenching words from the brave #ZarifaGhafari Afghanistan’s first female mayor. Everything feels trivial next to the cries of Afghan women pic.twitter.com/KMBCUa7USE
— Elif Shafak (@Elif_Safak) August 16, 2021
Despite Ghafari and other women having reported a sense of impending doom, some Afghan women are ready to resist the Taliban. Afghan educator and activist Pashtana Zalmai Khan Durrani had been speaking with the international press since the fall of Kabul to address women’s concerns around education. In one such interview to CNN, Durrani declared that she knew her rights, even if the Taliban refused to recognize them.
“First of all I want to highlight the fact that I am not afraid…I know my rights. Even if it is not in their dictionary, there are rights for women.”
— Mariam Hotaki (@mariamhotaki) August 16, 2021
Access to education for women has been a contentious issue in Afghanistan since time immemorial. In December last year, the Taliban agreed to allow UNICEF to open thousands of informal schools, which the conservative group would maintain control over. Speaking to the BBC last week, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen claimed that the group will protect the rights of women, including the right to education and work.
Despite the Taliban posturing itself as an ally to women, history has shown the group’s disdain for young girls in school, which it has exhibited by advancing the opinion that girls need to be at home helping their mothers. With documented proof of the Afghan Taliban shuttering women’s schools in various parts of the country over the years, the fears do not seem unfounded.