The Talabanis Turn Back the Clock - on Woman’s Rights
By Patrick Brigham
- published in the SWN during 1996
On September 27th 1996, an extremist militia seized power in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and other than quelling the ardour of the pro-Communist factions, it simultaneously plunged the occupied territories into a profound state of ‘Gender Apartheid’ by which term it is implied that women in Afghanistan have been stripped of all their normal human rights –
‘If this was happening to any other class of people around the world, there would be a tremendous outcry. We must make sure these same standards are applied when it is women and girls who are brutally treated.’ - Elinor Smeal - President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
During the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, the cold war was virtually coming to its bitter end. Known at the time as Russia’s Vietnam, there was no way that the formal Russian Military could subdue certain elements in Afghanistan, and they left in 1989. After all, the British also gave up trying to colonise the Afghans in the last century, or least admitted a stalemate in their attempt! What the Russian presence did do, however, was to evoke the Che Guevara syndrome; the intervention of a number of pro Islamic factions - especially the Mujahedeen - who were financed; at the time, by many countries - including the CIA - in its early days. Now, the only states to recognise the Taliban are Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the Emirates. In a recent report by the US Department of State released on September 9th of this year, they too have made their position quite clear, and do not condone the present almost medieval state of affairs which exist, in most parts of this country. Now, the west only recognises the Rabani Government, and is actively against the present Islamic fundamentalist rule that exists, and the militia of Massoud Shah. Rule is now by religious decree.
Since 1996, women have almost been banished from the workforce, girls schools have been officially closed, and all women have been expelled from universities. By virtue of the non existence of women doctors in hospitals, women and young girls are no longer generally admitted to hospitals or allowed to be examined by male doctors, and because of the virtual prohibition of female working staff, they have been precluded from any normal medical care. Women are also forced to wear the Burka - a dress which covers their whole body, with only a mesh opening in the head dress, through which to see - and are prohibited to leave home unless accompanied by a close male relative. To cap it all, women have been frequently beaten, flogged and killed for violating these primitive Taliban decrees.
The consequences of these abnormal decrees are horrendous, despite certain minor changes caused by consistent international outcry. Some ‘war widows’ who had been reduced to begging in order to feed their children; in some restricted cases, are now allowed to work, and a small number of hospitals now have segregated wards for a few women. But the education of girls remains taboo, although some clandestine home schools do exist. But what is the consequence of this reversal in time?
A woman, who dared to defy Taliban orders, by running a home school for girls, was shot and killed in front of her husband, daughter and students. A woman who tried to flee the country with an unrelated male, was stoned to death for adultery, and an elderly woman was brutally beaten with a metal cable; finally breaking her leg, because she accidentally showed her ankle from underneath her Burka. Many women, who are actually housebound, have attempted suicide, and according to a Physicians human rights pole, 97% of women suffer from depression. They cannot go shopping unless attended by a close male relative, so even the most mundane domestic duties are very difficult, in this fundamentalist, male dominated, society. In the report from the US Bureau for Democracy, and Human rights, it states -
‘Traditionally, Sunni Islam of the Hanafi School of jurisprudence has been the dominant religion. The Taliban also adheres to the Hanafi School, making it the dominant religion in the country. For the last 200 years Sunnis have often looked to the example of the Deoband Madrassa - religious school - near Delhi in India. Most of the Taliban leadership attended Deobandi-influenced seminaries in Pakistan. The Deoband School has long sought to purify Islam by discarding supposedly un-Islamic accretions to the faith and re-emphasising the models established in the Koran, and the customary practices of the prophet Mohammed. Additionally, Deobandi scholars have often opposed what they perceive as western influences. Much of the population adheres to Deobandi influenced Hanafi Sunnism, but a sizeable minority adheres to a more mystical version, generally known as Sufism. Sufism centres on orders or brotherhoods that follow charismatic religious leaders.’ It continues -
‘In the past, small communities of Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Christians lived in Afghanistan, but most members of these communities have left. Evan at their peak, these non-Muslim minorities constituted only one percent of the population. Almost all members of this countries small Hindu and Sikh population - which once numbered 50,000 people - have emigrated or taken refuge abroad.......... The very few Christians and Jews, who live in the country, are almost all foreigners, who are assigned temporarily to relief work by foreign NGO’s. There were press reports in June 1999 that the last known Afghan Rabbi, was detained in Kabul by the Taliban, and only released after several days.’
‘Women in Afghanistan enjoyed relative freedom until about 1996, before the darkness descended, and they were able work as they pleased, to dress as they wished, to drive, and to appear in public alone. Within reason Afghan women were at the time on a par with those in most of South Eastern Europe. In Bulgaria which one might almost term a matriarchal society, the plight of the Afghan woman must be perceived as pure anathema. South Eastern Europe, with all its shortcomings and confusion, especially in the aftermath of the Kosovo crisis, must at least concede that religious dogma has its footprint on this land. How often has one heard the term ‘Turkish Yoke;’ blame sitting without doubt on the shoulders of historic Muslim invaders. Or, in the case of Kosovo, who can doubt the calumny of ethnic cleansing, carried out in the name of nationalism, but in reality tinged with the wicked overtones of Christian fundamentalism.’
In an, Email which has now generated into a worldwide deluge of human indignation, an Australian Architect called John Hyland was concerned enough to send the writers colleague in London a synopsis of the plight of women in Afghanistan. In its edited form the last paragraph is redolent of all our feelings, and sums up the whole issue –
‘Everyone has a right to a tolerable human existence, even if they are women in a Muslim country. If we can threaten military force in Kosovo in the name of human rights, for the sake of the ethnic Albanians, citizens of the world can certainly express peaceful outrage at the oppression, murder and injustice committed against women by the Taliban. Should you wish to make you feelings known, and to support this international outrage then the following Email address is available to you.’ Patrick.Brigham@gmail.com www.patrickbrigham.co.uk