Afghan Women Fear a Return of Taliban, Though Few Remember Its Rule

28 August, 2019

Two yellow burqas hang at a television station in Kabul, Afghanistan. They are bright versions of the full-coverage clothing some women in the capital still wear. For some of the women working at Zan TV, they are a sign of a Taliban-ruled past that few of them can remember.

The United States and Taliban leaders continue to negotiate an end to America's longest war. Women have demanded representation in the talks. They worry about losing the gains they have made during the last 20 years.

Shogofa Sadiqi is Zan TV's chief director. She is 25 years old.

"For me, I will not submit myself to the Taliban," she said. She believes the group will have less power as it faces a new generation. She described the burqas as a sign of the struggles women have faced over the years. She has never worn one. "I don't like it," she said in English.

In this Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019 photo, burqas are on display at the Zan TV office in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
In this Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019 photo, burqas are on display at the Zan TV office in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Most too young to remember Taliban rule

About two-thirds of Afghanistan's population is 25 or younger. These young people have little or no memory of life before 2001. That year, the United States led an invasion of the country, which had sheltered al-Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden. The Taliban also established a severe form of Islamic law that oppressed women.

Now, a young generation watches as U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad negotiates a troop withdrawal. In return, the U.S. wants the Taliban to cut ties with al-Qaida and promise to resist terror groups. With talks centered on security, little else is guaranteed. Few know what the Taliban thinks or what it will do as international forces leave.

The Taliban now controls about half of Afghanistan. With its position stronger than ever, it has rejected negotiations with the Afghan government.

The U.S. says Afghans themselves will have to decide on issues such as women's rights in the country.

The rise of Afghan women

Karishma Naz finds this position unsettling. The 23-year-old presents music on Zan in the Dari language. Naz said she suspects the Taliban has not changed its beliefs. She said she thinks the group will force women like her to stop working and stay home.

"Why are there no women to represent and defend us?" Naz asked, worried about losing her career as a television presenter.

Her generation has seen Afghan women become street artists, business leaders and winners on the televised talent show "Afghan Star." Her generation also has watched a woman gain a seat on the country's highest court.

Young Afghan women have formed an all-female orchestra and competed in the Olympics. A woman opened the country's first yoga center and another leads the government's film production company.

Little change in Taliban-strong areas

Afghanistan's 2004 constitution provides equal rights for women and men. However, women in the country still face unfair treatment from conservative relatives, community members and even strangers. A bill criminalizing violence against women remains unpassed.

Little has changed in Taliban-controlled areas. The group has agreed that girls can be educated and work in politics and the judiciary. However, it bars females from serving as president or chief justice.

A report last year by the Overseas Development Institute says researchers "could not identify a single girls' secondary school open in an area of heavy Taliban influence or control." The study questioned more than 160 Taliban fighters, officials and civilians in seven of the country's 34 provinces.

'We will have no voice'

Parliament member Maryam Sama said much remains to be done even in areas under government control. About half of all girls in Afghanistan still do not attend school. More than half are married before age 19 and violence in families is widespread.

"But if we turn into an Islamic emirate we will have no voice," Sama said, using the Taliban's name for its kind of government. "If anything happens in Afghanistan, if anything goes wrong, all the responsibility goes back to the United States and the people" negotiating right now.

Former lawmaker Fawzia Koofi is one of the few women who spoke with Taliban leaders during the talks this year in Moscow and Qatar.

Taliban representatives told her they regretted many things that had happened. They told her women were forced to stay at home because of the insecurity at the time. She did not believe the claims.

The group still does not support women's rights as recognized in international guidelines. A Taliban statement at the Moscow talks said the group is committed to women's rights within the structure of Islam "and then Afghan tradition." The statement also criticized immorality and indecency "under the name of women's rights."

"I think the new generation of people in Afghanistan will not be able to accept this" position, Koofi said.

She told the Taliban that a girl born in the final months of their rule would now be 18. "She knows how to use all the technology and the opportunities of the world," Koofi remembered saying, "and if you try to oppress her or deprive her of her rights, definitely she will use her abilities to inform the world."

I'm Caty Weaver.

And I'm Jill Robbins.

Cara Anna of the Associated Press news agency reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

defiant adj. refusing to obey something or someone

submit v. to stop trying to fight or resist something: to agree to do or accept something that you have been resisting or opposing

orchestra n. a group of musicians who play usually classical music together and who are led by a conductor

yoga n. a system of exercises for mental and physical health

indecency n. behavior that is morally or sexually offensive

opportunity n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done

deprive v. to take something away from someone or something : to not allow (someone or something) to have or keep (something)

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