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What it means to be a woman in Afghanistan

EXPLAINERS
By Winfrey Owino | August 17th 2021

A United Nations report released in July showed the number of women and children killed and injured increased in May and June. [Courtesy]

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has more impact on women than their male counterparts as it puts their rights as well as their lives at stake, international gender activists say. 

According to Shabia Mantoo, United Nations refugee agency’s spokesperson, 80 per cent of the nearly 250,000 people who fled from Afghanistan in May and June were women and children.

A United Nations report released in July showed the number of women and children killed and injured increased in May and June (a time when international troops including the US withdrew their troops from Afghanistan.)

"Please spare a thought for the people women and girls of Afghanistan. A tragedy unfolds in front of our eyes," said Phumzile Mlambo, the executive director of UN Women.

In 1996 and 2001, when the Taliban last held power in Afghanistan, women were the most impacted group of people.

They were denied their right to education, employment opportunities and were expected to leave the house covering their full body with a burqa (a Muslim outfit that covers all parts of the body except the eyes).

According to the Taliban’s rules, a woman stepping out of the house needs a Maharram, a male guardian to offer security when they move around.

Failure to adhere to these strict rules would attract severe punishment, ranging from beating to execution in some occasions.

Shukria Barakzai, an Afghan politician, recalls her encounter with the Taliban over two decades ago when circumstances forced her to break the rules.

She told the Atlantic how she woke up feeling unwell one morning in 1999, and could not go for medication because her husband was at work and she had no male guardian to escort her.

“I shaved my 12-year-old daughter’s head, dressed her in boys’ clothing and slipped on a burka which hid the nail polish I had. I asked a neighbour, another woman, to walk with me to the doctor in central Kabul,” she told The Atlantic.

According to reports by Atlantic, upon leaving the hospital en route to the pharmacy, a truckload of Taliban pulled up beside them.

The Muslim feminist narrated how the men jumped out of the truck and started whipping her with a rubber cable until she fell over, then continued whipping and humiliating her.

“Are you familiar with something we call sadism? Like they don’t know why, but they are just trying to beat you, harm you, disrespect you. This is what they enjoy,” the Ambassador of Afghanistan to Norway noted.

She credits this moment for the birth of her life as an activist.

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