Afghanistan: What Future for the Women?

Featured Illustration: Maliha Abidi

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On Sunday 15th of August, the unimaginable happened. As the Afghanistan government collapsed, the Taliban gained control of the capital of Kabul after President Ashraf Ghani left the country. The fundamentalist group was preparing for its return to power in conjunction with President Biden’s withdrawal plan for the U.S. troops, which is still set to be the 31st of August.

We have witnessed decades of foreign intervention in the Middle East, the West playing white saviors (as always) under the pretense of fighting for “freedom”. But what is freedom from the Afghan perspective, when foreign diplomacy claims to save and protect, and all it is actually doing is taking and killing? Isn’t it disturbing that we somehow get used to it? Why has it been normalized? Why are we the silent spectators of this ongoing tragedy? And what can we do to get out of it?

After the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, the U.S. government (public) mission in Afghanistan was to fight against those responsible, the terrorist group Al-Qaeda and its leader Osama Bin Laden. But who are the Taliban and where do they come from?

Al-Qaeda’s rise to power took place in the early ’90s, with a bunch of tribesmen and students from eastern and southern Afghanistan who frequented traditional Islamic schools. However, they were supported by the CIA through “Operation Cyclone” in the late ’70s, which shows how disturbing the U.S. involvement has been in the Afghan conflict.

These extremists enforce a very brutal misinterpretation of Sharia law, which prevents women’s agency over their own lives. Ever since their new rise to power, numerous media outlets and infographics on Instagram have reported that the Taliban fighters are going door-to-door to sexually abuse women and girls as young as 12 years old. Yes, you read that correctly. Women are being told to stop working and educating themselves, they are being stripped of their rights as we speak.

I am upset. I am upset as a young woman witnessing these terrorists using their ultraconservative misinterpretation of Islam to abuse and destroy countless lives. I am upset at the West for instigating wars, instigating generations and generations of traumatized, malnourished, and uneducated children.

Having a childhood, mental wellness, education, and stable living conditions should all be a RIGHT, not a privilege.

We have had enough. Women have had enough of heteronormative societies, cultures, and laws that ridicule and abuse us when we don’t follow the rules and when we dare to embrace our femininity however it pleases us, covered or not, quiet or loud, when we dare to speak our minds, when we dare to say no, when we dare to shine and be glorious. We have had enough of the toxic masculinity that has been running in our patriarchal societies, of men telling us what to say, what to wear, how to behave. How dare they tell us, women, who hold the power of the creation of life in our wombs? Mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives are the backbone of the family structure as we know it, and of our societies. Without us, where would men be? What would men be able to achieve? And yet, we are silenced, hidden, abused, and killed.

Over the past 20 years, the West has failed to end the disruption the extremist group and others have brought in the region. “Conflict in Afghanistan is forcing hundreds of thousands to flee amid reports of serious human rights violations. All abuses must stop,” said the U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Twitter, alongside other world leaders who expressed their concerns about the situation.

Whether it be in the West or in the Middle East and despite how loud feminism and allyship seem to be on social media, the world keeps failing to protect women and their rights.