Pakistani activist for female education and youngest Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai has called on countries to accelerate their efforts and support for the people of Afghanistan, especially women and girls.
At age 15, while on a bus from school in the Swat District of Northwest Pakinstan, Yousafzai and two other girls were shot by a Tehrik-i Taliban-Pakistan gunman in an assassination attempt, in retaliation for her human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children.
Nine years later, while still recovering from her sixth surgery done only two weeks ago to repair the damage on her body by the Taliban bullet, she expressed deep concerns for women, minorities and human rights advocates in Afghanistan, as the country is now firmly under the control of the Taliban militants.
“On August 9 in Boston, I woke up at 5:00 am to go to the hospital for my latest surgery and saw the news that the Taliban had taken Kunduz, the first major city to fall in Afghanistan. Over the next few days, with ice packs and a bandage wrapped around my head, I watched as province after province fell to men with guns, loaded with bullets like the one that shot me.
“I am still recovering from just one bullet. The people of Afghanistan have taken millions of bullets over the last four decades. My heart breaks for those whose names we will forget or never even know, whose cries for help will go unanswered,” Yousafzai said in a new publication recounting her ordeal.
Although the Taliban have pledged equal rights for Afghan women and girls, many citizens are suspicious of the regime and with alarming reports of school closures, movement restrictions and women forced to leave their jobs, they believe the Taliban pretense of moderation is already starting to wane.
Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said at a news conference on Tuesday that women should ‘temporarily’ not go to work for their own safety as the group finds ways to ensure that women are not ‘treated in a disrespectful way’ or ‘God forbid, hurt.’
“We are happy for them to enter the buildings but we want to make sure they do not face any worries. Therefore, we have asked them to take time off from work until the situation gets back to a normal order and women related procedures are in place, then they can return to their jobs once it’s announced,” Mujahid stated.
With the imposition of a strict interpretation of Sharia law, forcing women to cover themselves from head to foot, sales and prices of women’s hijabs and turbans are reported to have risen by up to 500 per cent since the Taliban took over Afghanistan.
Speaking during an emergency session at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday, Chairperson for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission Shaharzad Akbar confirmed that women in Afghanistan had been barred from going to their offices by the Taliban and universities had been asked to discuss gender segregation possibilities.
Akbar said women were required to be accompanied by male members of their family in public, summary executions, disappearances and house-to-house searches while the media were not allowed to broadcast music, journalists and activists in public.
He said former members of the Afghan National Security Forces were scared of the worst and there was widespread fear in the country.
“These abuses are not in the distant past either. In recent weeks, as they (the Taliban) gained territory, there were reports of them barring girls and women from education in some districts, pushing women out of jobs, and ordering women not to go out in public without a male family member—all shades of pre-2001,” she said.
Afghanistan is bound by treaties it joined, which include the United Nations convention on women’s rights, but recent restrictions and alleged brutality by the Taliban fall short of their obligations under international human rights law.
The UN convention obligates governments to actively ensure women’s ‘human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.’ This include women’s right to dress as they please, live where they want, move freely, engage in any occupation, be free from violence, and make their own sexual and reproductive choices.
The fight for the rights of women in Afghanistan has achieved many successes. For example, until the 2004 constitution which included for the first time in Afghanistan’s history a provision – Article 22 – that men and women were equal, women in Afghanistan were not allowed to get a national identity card.
Another important development for women in the country as part of the post-2001 reconstruction effort was the 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) Law, created to provide women and girls with legal protection from domestic violence.
Girls were allowed to go to school and women reportedly made up 30 per cent of the Afghanistan civil service after the Taliban regime in 2001. Two decades after, these achievements are on the verge of being tumbled by a Taliban government claiming to offer ‘freedom’ within the confines of Islam.
“There is no evidence to substantiate their claims that they have changed their tactics of dealing with the local populace in the areas of their control,” said a Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher for Women’s Rights in Asia Ahmadzai Heather.