Young Women Who Grew Up Without the Taliban Fear Their Return

03 May 2021

Sultana Karimi works in Ms. Sadat's Beauty Store in Afghanistan's capital. She found bravery and her love for beauty in the store.

She and the other young women working or training in the store never experienced the rule of the Taliban over Afghanistan.

But they all worry that their dreams will come to an end if the extreme militants regain any power, even if it happens as part of a new government.

Karimi said if the Taliban returns, life will change and be ruined. She continued, "Women will be sent into hiding, they'll be forced to wear the burqa to go out of their homes."

She wore a bright, yellow shirt that was unusual even for the all-women store. She would not have been able to wear the shirt under the Taliban.

Beauticians apply makeup on customers at Ms. Sadat's Beauty Salon in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, April 25, 2021. Kabul's young working women say they fear their dreams may be short-lived if the Taliban return to Kabul, even if peacefully as part of a new
Beauticians apply makeup on customers at Ms. Sadat's Beauty Salon in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, April 25, 2021. Kabul's young working women say they fear their dreams may be short-lived if the Taliban return to Kabul, even if peacefully as part of a new

The Taliban ruled in Afghanistan until the 2001 US-led invasion.

The Taliban banned beauty stores in general. Their extreme ideas often affected women and girls the most. They banned women from education, work, and even traveling outside their homes without a male family member.

US troops are set to leave Afghanistan completely by September 11. Many Afghan women worry about their futures after U.S. troops leave.

Mahbouba Seraj is a women's rights activist in Afghanistan. She is the executive director of Afghan Women's Skill Development. She said women are closely watching the peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government over the post-withdrawal future. Right now, those negotiations are frozen.

The US is pushing for a power-sharing government that includes the Taliban. Seraj said women want written guarantees from the Taliban that they will not undo the gains made by women in the past 20 years. They also want the international community to hold the Taliban to its promises.

Seraj said, "I am not frustrated that the Americans are leaving ... the time was coming that the Americans would go home."

She and other women, however, want the US and NATO to demand a guarantee of women's rights from the Taliban.

Two weeks ago, the Taliban announced the type of government they would build.

The announcement promised that women can serve the country in education, business, health and social fields while wearing "correct" Islamic hijab. It promised girls would have the right to choose their own husbands. This is considered unacceptable in many traditional and tribal homes in Afghanistan where husbands are chosen by parents.

The announcement did not have many details. It did not guarantee that women could join politics or have the freedom to move without a male family member.

Many worry that the unclear terms the Taliban use in their promises, like "correct hijab," will permit them to enforce crushing judgements.

Ms. Sadat owns the beauty store. She was born in Iran to refugee parents. She said she was not allowed to own a business in Iran. So, she returned to a homeland she had never seen to open her store.

She asked to not be identified by her full name. She fears the attention could make her a target. She has been more careful as violence and bombings have increased in Kabul the past year. Many believe this points to a difficult future for Afghanistan after the Americans and NATO leave.

The women who are working or training in the store fear the Taliban. One worker said that just the name of the Taliban makes them afraid.

They are left to decide how much fear or compromise of their rights they can accept. Tamila Pazhman said she does not want "the old Afghanistan back." But she does want peace.

"If we know we will have peace, we will wear the hijab while we work and study," she said. "But there must be peace."

They all grew up during the fairly democratic last 20 years. Important gains were made by women since the Taliban was forced out. Girls are now in school, and women are now in Parliament, government and business.

They also know how quickly those rights can be removed in a deeply conservative country controlled by men.

Karimi said that women in Afghanistan who speak out have been oppressed and ignored. The majority of Afghan women will be quiet. She continued, "They know they will never receive any support."

Afghanistan remains one of the worst countries in the world for women. It is third, after Yemen and Syria, reports Georgetown University's Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

Life has changed little in centuries in most rural areas. Women wake when the sun rises and do much of the heavy labor in the home and in the fields. They wear the traditional clothes that cover their whole body. According to UN estimates, one in three girls is married before age 18. They are most often forced marriages.

I'm Jill Robbins.

Kathy Gannon and Tameem Akhgar reported this story for the Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.


Words in This Story

burqa n. a long piece of clothing that covers the face and body and that is worn by some Muslim women in public places

frustrated adj. very angry, discouraged, or upset because of being unable to do or complete something

hijab n. a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women