Women in Afghanistan: What Next?

By Azam Kamguian

Are there any people on earth more wretched than the women of Afghanistan? As if poverty, hunger, drought, ruined cities and a huge refugee crisis weren't bad enough, under Taliban's rule they can not work, they can't go to school, they have virtually no healthcare, they can't talk and laugh loudly, they can't leave their houses without a male escort, they are beaten in the streets if they lift the mandatory burqa even to relieve a coughing fit. No high heels (that lust - inducing click- click! to God's men), no white socks. Windows must be painted over so that no male passerby can see the dreaded female form lurking in the house. (This particular stricture, combined with the burqa, has led to an outbreak of osteomalacia, a bone disease caused by malnutrition and lack of sunlight.)

Until September 11, this situation received little attention in the West - far less than the destruction of the giant Buddha statutes of Bamiyan. Cultural relativism and a post-modern unwillingness together with the mainstream media's effort to 'cover' things up were all responsible. The notion that the plight of women in Afghanistan is a matter of culture and religion and not for westerners to judge was widespread across the political spectrum. Now, finally the world is paying attention to the Taliban and the women of Afghanistan. Now westerners have also experienced the bloody taste of political Islam. Now the connections between political Islamic groups and the suppression of women are plain to see. Now they see the connection of political Islam in Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, Algeria and Egypt with misogyny, terrorism and atrocities in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and New York.

Now, the same media and intellectuals talk about the notorious Northern Alliance as Afghan women's friend. They brush aside the fact that Northern Alliance warlords are themselves Islamic gangsters and drug smuggling groups that not only considerably restricted women when they held power from 1992 to 1996, but also plunged the country into civil war and committed atrocities, leaving the population exhausted and ruined. In 1990, a group of 80 Afghan mullahs in Peshawar - all of whom were from the seven parties that made up the Western-backed Mujahedin 'government in exile' issued a fatwa (a religious decree) stating that women were not to wear perfume, noisy bangles, or western clothes. Veils had to cover the body at all times from head to toe and clothes were not to be made of material, which was soft or rustled. Women were not to walk in the middle of the street or swing hips, they were not to talk, laugh or joke with strangers or foreigners - restrictions similar to the Taliban's.

What Next?

Women's fate together with the fate of the people in Afghanistan should not be abandoned to the Northern Alliance or a so-called moderate faction of the Taliban and Luya Jergah. The freedom of people and women in Afghanistan from the monstrosity of Taliban, other political Islamic groups and Islamic terrorism is the task of freedom-loving people and egalitarian movements all over the world. Progressive and freedom-loving movements should see the liberation of women and people in Afghanistan as their own task and not allow a so-called moderate faction of Taliban or the Northern Alliance backed by the USA, UK and reactionary governments in the region, to take power and further ruin more lives and commit atrocities. We should not allow the political Islamic movement to continue their murderous history and brutality against women.

Progressive and humanitarian forces must resolutely and actively support the secularist, progressive movement of the region. They must put pressure on Western governments to end their support for right-wing, Islamic and reactionary governments in the region. They must demand an end to any wheeling and dealings between the West and governments in the region, particularly Pakistan and Iran, in imposing another ethnic, reactionary and Islamic group on the people of Afghanistan and continuing the oppressive plight of women in this country. The UN and Western governments must be put under pressure to guarantee a situation for the Afghan people to freely choose and establish their political system. Guarantees of political freedom, civil and individual rights, secularism, abolition of existing anti-women laws and equal rights between men and women are minimal requirements.

More than twenty years of civil war, suppression, the slavery of women and atrocities is enough. It is time for the women of Afghanistan to enjoy a life worthy of human beings. It is time for women to be free of poverty, indignity, restrictions and humiliation and enjoy their rights.