One year after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan: what we left behind

i am a journalist And in the exercise of my profession, I can express my opinion publicly. I don’t have to fear for my own life afterwards, let alone that of my family.

It is natural for me to walk out of my house alone, to say what I think and not to be beaten or arrested on the street for doing so.

On the way to the office I meet numerous other women. Among them are many who are also on their way to work, who drive to the university, I meet girls who are on their way to school. It is hard to imagine that brothers or male relatives who are not trained for these jobs will take our place. Or that our seat remains empty because we are women.

At the latest since August 15, 2021, my free, everyday actions have had a bitter aftertaste. I’m ashamed of my privilege because it doesn’t feel fair. Almost all the freedoms that I live out in this country as a German-Afghan woman, as a journalist and as a woman, women in Afghanistan have not had for a year at the latest.

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Since returning to power, the Taliban have suppressed any dissent. Arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings of former Afghan officials and attacks by the Islamic State terrorist militia against religious minorities have increased. The economic hardship is also greater than before. Almost 95 percent of the population is threatened by starvation.

But no one was so massively restricted in their freedom and endangered as the women and girls. Because a year ago they lost their right to education, work and freedom of movement in public space and are constantly threatened by violence.

Afghan newsreader Khatereh Ahmadi supports her head

Three quarters of women journalists in Afghanistan have lost their jobs or left them for fear of the Taliban.

(Photo: AP)

And yet, on the anniversary of the Taliban taking power this Monday, Afghan women are once again taking to the streets of Kabul. With the motto “Work, bread and freedom – for all people in Afghanistan” they fight for their rights. But the fact that there are hardly any women left demonstrators had to experience again after just a few minutes on Saturday. Because after a short time the Taliban ended the protest with aerial shots and drove out the demonstrators who had gathered in front of the Ministry of Education.

Some women who fled to nearby shops were chased by the Taliban and beaten with guns. According to an AFP reporter, journalists who wanted to report on the first women’s demonstration in months were also attacked.

If I were a journalist in Afghanistan, I would no longer be able to practice my profession. According to data from the organization Reporters Without Borders, the number of journalists has fallen by more than half to around 4,750.

Gunshots by day, kidnappings by night

Women are particularly affected by the decline in Afghanistan: three quarters of female journalists have lost their jobs or left them for fear of the Taliban. In eleven out of 34 Afghan provinces no women journalists work anymore.

Empty classroom in a school in Kabul

Around 850,000 of Afghanistan’s 1.1 million secondary school students are prevented from attending school by the Taliban.

(Photo: AP)

When Afghanistan’s capital Kabul fell a year ago, documents such as files, school documents, certificates and contracts were burned for fear of house searches by the Taliban. Painters were called in to quickly paint over shop advertisements depicting women.

I inevitably find myself confronted with the question: what remains when my femininity becomes a stigma that needs to be erased from public life? In my everyday life, my human rights are at least not fully linked to my gender. Freedom of expression, freedom of movement and the right to freely develop my personality are largely guaranteed. I can live out my social and cultural rights.

Even with misogyny and structural disadvantages in this country, such as unequal educational opportunities or the gender pay gap, the realization remains: If I lived in Afghanistan, I would be dehumanized because of my femininity.

While in this country I am perceived as an individual, in Afghanistan women are seen as a collective to be oppressed. In January, Afghan politician Nahid Farid described the systematic repression as “gender apartheid”, i.e. economic and social discrimination against people based on their gender or sexual orientation.

Schoolgirls demonstrate against the Taliban’s school bans

The Taliban’s current bans will deprive generations of Afghan women of their career prospects.

(Photo: BRYAN DENTON/The New York Times/)

Scenarios that we experience in nightmares or horror films have become a reality for Afghan women. Just as the Taliban break up the protests in Kabul by shooting during the day, they often kidnap women’s rights activists at night when it’s dark.

The Kabul activist Tamana Paryani protested against the regulations of the Taliban regime – and paid a high price for her resistance. In January, the student published a video that was shared tens of thousands of times on social media and news platforms.

On the cellphone recording, Paryani screams in panic into the camera of her cellphone at night. “Help! Please, the Taliban are on my doorstep, my little sisters are at home.” Men are shouting on the other side of the front door, demanding that she open the door.

In the background, Paryani’s terrified sisters scream for help as the front door shakes. Then the recording stops. It was only about a month later that Paryani and other kidnapped activists were released. Numerous other women have since been arrested.

Identity of Afghan women institutionally erased

The human rights organization Amnesty International complained in a report that the Taliban arrest women for “minor violations of discriminatory rules”. The report draws particular attention to the mistreatment of women who oppose Taliban regulations. Women who protest against the conditions are abducted and tortured.

Amnesty even reports the disappearance of demonstrators. Last but not least, there would be an increase in forced marriages. The organization attributes this, among other things, to the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the lack of educational and professional opportunities.

It is not only in the present that the rights of Afghan women are being massively curtailed. According to the organization Save the Children, 850,000 of Afghanistan’s 1.1 million secondary school students are being kept out of school.

By denying access to education, the Taliban prevent young women from later entering the workforce – more and more doctors, teachers and engineers are lost until they eventually disappear. The Taliban’s current bans will deprive generations of Afghan women of their career prospects.

Two Afghan women protest in their home

A year ago, women in Afghanistan lost their right to education, work and freedom of movement in public spaces.

(Photo: AP)

This makes it clear to me again how frightening and threatening an educated woman is for patriarchal-motivated violence and warfare. Eliminating this threat is far more important to the Taliban than the lure of exploiting the economic potential of working women.

The situation in the Hindu Kush shows what continued ignorance can do. The identity of a self-determined woman is institutionally erased in Afghanistan. And international women’s rights do not change that for the West: After international troops had presented themselves as liberators from oppressed Afghan women for decades and they had fought their way into schools, universities and political participation, they were now left to their fate without support.

As a German-Afghan woman, I am aware that my German part would also have privileges there, since it is the Afghan woman who is being robbed of her dignity. This privileged segment feels guilty, but can use its privilege to point out the responsibility we bear: the currently vulnerable women’s rights activists, their families and other vulnerable groups must be evacuated as soon as possible.

The author

Business journalist Isabelle Wermke is German-Afghan.

Instead of negotiating with the Taliban, the international community must empower women there. The German Women’s Council demands: “The federal government must also ensure that existing emergency aid, structural development and education projects are permanently expanded and designed in such a way that they really reach Afghan women.”

A year after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, I’m still waiting for the feminist foreign policy that the federal government promised several times during this time. However, compared to the women in Afghanistan, who meanwhile continue to fear for their lives, my waiting position is enormously privileged.
More: One year after taking power: Taliban have made Afghanistan the “sadest country on earth”.

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