Taliban Reverses Pledge and Keeps Girls Schools Closed

Despite much anticipation, the Taliban regime announced today that girls’ schools from grades 7-12 would remain closed until they have a plan. The Taliban statement read that “we inform all girls’ high schools and those schools with female students above class six that they are off until the next order.”

Devastated teachers and students around the country who did not know about the announcement until they arrived at their schools had to return home. In speaking with the BBC, one in Kabul student said, “I feel really hopeless for my future. I don’t see a bright future for myself. All we want is to go to school.”

Another tearful student told Tolonews, “why are they playing with our future? It is our right; we are humans, we are from this country. All we want is to continue with our education. Is it a sin to be a girl, is it a sin to seek education?”

The sudden reversal in decision came after last week’s announcement by the Taliban’s Ministry of Education that all schools, including girls’ high schools, would reopen on Wednesday, March 23. March 23 marks the beginning of the school year in Afghanistan.

The decision to keep girls’ schools closed did not apply to schools nationwide. Some schools in other parts of Afghanistan, including Herat and Ghor, were open today but were ordered to close from tomorrow. In the majority of the country, girls were told to return home.

Global media, Afghan girls and women, activists, the United Nations office in Kabul, and allies have condemned the closure. In an interview with the BBC, Barak Pashtana, a girls’ education activist, said, “education is part of Afghan culture. Every house has a bookstore in its vicinity, Afghan culture doesn’t stop girls from education…rural Afghanistan didn’t have access to education because of lack of resources, and that was because of the Taliban.”

In another interview of the BBC, Heather Barr of the Human Rights Watch said that “it illustrates how unprepared they are to run a country and provide services… but it also reveals how fundamental to the identity of their movement misogyny is and this vision of a world in which girls and women have no place outside the home.”

The UN said that it “deplores today’s reported announcement by the Taliban that they are further extending their indefinite ban on female students above the 6th grade being permitted to return to school.”

Videos circulating on social media also show teachers and students crying and some students protesting in front of a girl’s high school in Kabul chanting, “education is our right.”

In another tweet, Save the Children said they were heartbroken for the adolescent girls across Afghanistan who were denied their right to education. “The continued ban on girls’ secondary education is appalling. We urge the authorities to reverse this decision and ensure schools for girls open immediately to guarantee the right to education for all.”

Since the Taliban’s takeover of power in Afghanistan, some international organizations and countries have engaged more closely with the Taliban. In some cases, even promising recognition. However, one of the conditions for the recognition has been women and girls’ access to education. As Heather Barr said in her interview with the BBC, the Taliban’s decision to reverse their pledge has “made a mockery not only of Afghan girls but of the entire international community.”

Yalda Hakim working for the BBC, said, “183 days they had time to resolve the school uniform issue, so why did they wait for girls to turn up at their schools with their uniforms, with their box, waiting to be educated again, only to find that they have been denied education.” The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they banned women and girls from education and employment. Many Afghan women and activists believe that the Taliban ideology on women and girls’ rights has not evolved since they were last in power. Since August 15 of 2021, women have been told to stay home, stripping them of their fundamental human rights once again.

Taliban conducts ‘horrific’ door-to-door searches in Afghanistan

In late February, the Taliban launched a house-to-house search operation called “search and clear” supposedly to address the rising criminalities in Kabul. The search operation is throughout Kabul and also other areas of Afghanistan, especially Kapisa, Parwan, Bamiyan, and Panjshir provinces. Photos and videos on social media show Taliban’s security forces kicking in people’s doors, pointing guns at the residents and beating some of them. Videos also show the Taliban fighters going through people’s closets, chopping up mattresses, digging yards, and destroying furniture. Some describe the search as “ransacking” rather than a search operation looking for criminals.

The house searches have terrorized Afghans, reminding them of the harrowing experiences of the past house searches by the former governments. The Afghan people have been clear about sharing their dismay and photos of chaos created by the Taliban forces on social media. They have been raising their concerns, calling it “violations of privacy,” “intrusive,” and “suppressing dissent” in the name of clearing criminalities. In a tweet, Andreas von Brandt, the European Union’s ambassador to Afghanistan, wrote to the Taliban; “Despite Putin’s war, we are watching you.” He added, “The intimidations, house searches, arrests and violence against members of different ethnic groups and women are crimes and must stop immediately.” In another tweet, Andrew Fox, operations manager for the UK-based Azadi Charity wrote, “The Taliban are sealing off the city district by district and methodically searching every house. Those they seize are being tortured and ransomed. Our WhatsApps are full of horror stories and utterly horrific photos.”

Despite all the footages and witnesses, the Taliban officials have denied these claims. In a news conference, Taliban’s spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that the operations in Kabul and neighboring cities have been “successful,” and the main goal for these searches was to “collect weapons” and arrest “criminals.”  Mujahid added that “over 60,000 rounds of ammunition, 13 armored vehicles, 13 tones of gunpowder and explosives along with rocket launchers and grenades were seized in the raids.” Taliban fighters also announced that they arrested “nine kidnappers, six ISIS members and 53 thieves.”

Despite announcing a general amnesty, since their takeover of power, the Taliban has continued detaining journalists, men and women activists, and people associated with the former government and police forces. The Afghan national security forces under the former republic have remained their big target. Many Afghans have complained that the Taliban are not committed to their blanket amnesty declaration. The house-to-house searches have also caused panic among people who used to work for the previous government and international NGOs, leading them to burn their documents in fear of being harassed or arrested by the Taliban.  

Even after the Oslo meeting, the Taliban continues to arrest and torture Afghan women protestors

On January 19th, a video circulating on social media showed Tamana Zaryab Paryani, an Afghan women’s rights activist and journalist, pleading for help moments before armed men claiming to be Taliban intelligence broke into her apartment and abducted her and three of her sisters. Paryani recorded the video on her phone while the men were pounding on her door, “help, please, the Taliban have come to our home … only my sisters are [here].”

Tamana was leading protests in Kabul and she was speaking up on social media and the international media against the Taliban’s restrictions on women and their brutality. Similarly, Parwana Ibrahimkhel and several other protestors were arrested from their homes. Most of the women’s families do not want to speak or identify themselves for the safety of other family members.

Rokhshana Rezai, Afghan Powerful Women’s Movement co-founder, told TRT World that Tamana and Parwana were arrested by the Taliban for their bold voices, “They both fiercely stood up for our basic rights and were arrested by the Taliban and are currently being held by them. There are several witnesses to their arrests, and all of them say the men claimed to be the Taliban.”

The Taliban’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied the abduction of the women and said that the authorities had the right “to arrest and detain dissidents or those who break the law”.

The United Nations has also raised concerns over the arrests and detonations of civil society activists, journalists, former government and security forces personnel in Afghanistan. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR ) announced that they have received credible reports of gross human rights violations by the Taliban. Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights told journalists in Geneva that she is “very concerned” over the safety and well-being of the protestors. “We call on the de facto authorities to publicly report on the findings of their investigation into the abduction and disappearance of these women activists and their relatives, to take all possible measures to ensure their safe and immediate release, and to hold those responsible to account”, said Shamdasani. 

Shamdasani also demanded prompt investigation of the arbitrary arrests from the Taliban official and asked for those responsible for abductions to be held accountable in line with international human rights law. “All those who may be arbitrarily detained for exercising their rights must be promptly released…We also urge the Taliban leadership to send clear messages to their rank-and-file that there must be no reprisals against people who demonstrate peacefully and exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.

Since they seized Afghanistan on August 15, the Taliban have increasingly violated women’s and human rights by detaining women and girls and restricting them from jobs, education, and other fundamental rights. There have also been disturbing reports on Afghan women leaders being killed or missing in recent months.

On January 21, the Taliban were flown by a private jet to Oslo, Norway for a meeting with officials from the US, the European Union, France, Germany, the UK, and Norway. The Taliban committed to investigate the kidnapping of women and civic leaders. Despite those promises, Afghan journalists are being taken by the Taliban and women leaders, especially those who emerged in the post-Taliban takeover are taken to undisclosed locations by the Taliban fighters.

Afghan Women Risk their Lives to Protest Taliban’s Brutality and Harsh Restrictions

Afghan women activists gathered in front of Kabul University this past Sunday, January 16, demanding their rights and justice over the fatal shooting of Zainab Abdullahi at a Taliban checkpoint, the disappearance of Herat women’s prison manager Alia Azizi, as well as the alleged torture of women protesters in Mazar-e-Sharif, the fourth largest city in Afghanistan. Both women were Hazaras, a minority ethnic group that has been targeted by the Taliban. 

The protestors chanted “equality and justice” and carried banners that read “women’s rights, human rights.” The protest was soon ended by the Taliban fighters who harassed and pepper-sprayed the women protesters.

“When we were near Kabul University three Taliban vehicles came, and fighters from one of the vehicles used pepper spray on us,” said one woman, who asked not to be named for security reasons. “My right eye started to burn. I told one of them: ‘Shame on you,’ and then he pointed his gun at me.” One of the women was taken to hospital after the spray caused an allergic reaction in her eyes and face. Journalists were also asked to leave the scene and a man’s mobile phone was taken by the Taliban because he was filming the demonstration.

Sunday’s protest followed last week’s protest when a group of women took to streets of Kabul to rally against new restrictions imposed on them by the Ministry of Virtue and Vice after the Taliban installed posters in some parts of Kabul demanding women wear burqa or niqab and not allowing women to travel long distances without a male guardian. Videos shared on social media also show that women are writing slogans on Kabul walls at night to show their refusal to obey and their defiance of the Taliban’s forced restrictions.  

“….I am a woman and I am mahram to myself,” said Shabana Shabdiz, a protester. Mahram refers to a close male family member, for example a husband, father, brother, or uncle, whom a woman is not obligated to cover up around.

“In this march, we ask for our rights to education and employment from the current rulers,” said Shahla Arifi, a protester. The women also urged the world not to remain silent about the Taliban, especially when it comes to women and their basic human rights. Since the collapse of the Afghan government in August 2021, Taliban authorities have removed women and girls from public employment and public universities. Women are no longer allowed to pursue an education post-elementary school.

Blinken Appoints Two Leaders for Afghan Women, Girls and Human Rights

Last week (December 29), U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appointed Rina Amiri as the Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls and Human Rights and Stephanie Foster as the new Senior Advisor for Women and Girls within the State Department’s Coordinator for Afghan Relocation Efforts (CARE) team.  Both women have years of experience working for women’s rights and equality. 

Amiri, an Afghan American leader who has publicly criticized the “chaotic” withdrawal from Afghanistan, has at least two decades of experience and was a senior advisor to the Obama Administration as a special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Blinken said in the announcement of her appointment that Amiri will work closely with him for the goal of “a peaceful, stable, and secure Afghanistan.”  Amiri is well connected to Afghan women leaders and activists.

Foster, who is considered a State Department veteran, will enhance U.S operations to evacuate and resettle for at-risk Afghan women and girls who are especially endangered by the Taliban regime because of their work for women’s rights.  Amiri has also criticized, according to Reuters, the process for evacuating Afghan women at risk and has called it a “disaster.”

Meanwhile, the Taliban continues curbing or eliminating Afghan women and girls’ rights.  Recently the Taliban has decreed that Afghan women cannot travel more than 45 miles without being accompanied by a close male family member. The Taliban has essentially stopped the education of girls and women past the seventh grade, has stopped women from working outside the home, and has eliminated them from all decision-making positions. Plus women’s rights leaders and activists, journalists (male and female), women judges, and the list goes on, have been assassinated. 

Women Protest in Kabul for Food, Work and Equality

Dozens of brave Afghan women in Kabul staged a rally against the spread of poverty today calling for food, work, equality and full participation in all social, economic, and political spheres. The women marched through Kabul holding banners that demanded women’s political participation and release of Afghanistan’s frozen assets by the international community.

“We are witnessing the gradual death of Afghanistan. Poverty forced us to gather here. The price of materials is spiking and the government is unable to control the prices,” said Marjana Amiri, a protestor.

Women protestors also released a statement about the world’s silence toward Afghan women’s rights and called on the international community to not abandon Afghans, particularly women. “Our children are dying from starvation. Our families are struggling to find bread for their children. International community: please hear our voice–don’t abandon Afghanistan and its people,” said Atifa, a protestor. Despite their promise to an inclusive and more moderate government, the Taliban have kept the majority of Afghan women from employment and education. Afghans, especially women, are worried and scared about losing the rights they have had for the last two decades. Key global donors have blocked most of the aid and money that would otherwise have gone to Afghanistan. In response to the humanitarian crisis, the World Bank agreed to transfer $280 million from a frozen trust fund, and the United States formalized guidance allowing personal remittances to flow to Afghanistan. The World Food Program and the United Nation have been distributing food, but it is not enough.

Amnesty International Calls for International Aid to Immediately Help Afghan Women and Girls

New research conducted by Amnesty International reveals that “women and girl survivors of gender-based violence have essentially been abandoned in Afghanistan. Their network of support has been dismantled, and their places of refuge have all but disappeared,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

In interviews by the Amnesty International, 26 survivors and service providers from ten provinces raised concerns over the closing of the shelters and releasing of more than 3,000 convicted of gender-based violence, “it defies belief that the Taliban threw open prison doors across the country, with no thought of the risks that convicted perpetrators pose to the women and girls they victimized, and to those who worked with survivors.” According to the Amnesty International by credible reports, “survivors have also been transferred by the Taliban into the detention system, including to Pul-e-Charkhi prison, near Kabul.”

Amnesty International urged the international community to provide immediate long-term funding to protect gender-based violence survivors and defenders because “they are now at risk of violence and death.” 

Afghan women and girls’ survivors of sexual violence “had access to a nationwide network of shelters and services, including pro-bono legal representation, medical treatment, and psychosocial support.” Majority of those women, according to Amnesty, were referred into the system from provincial and capital offices of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Human Rights Commission, as well as from shelters, hospitals, and police stations across the country. But since the Taliban retook the country, women and girls’ survivors were “forced to go back to their families, live with shelter staff members, on the street, or in other unsustainable situations.”

Human Rights Watch and the Feminist Majority Foundation both also have found that domestic violence shelters were quickly closed by the Taliban as soon as it took over the country, and the group has closed the women’s affairs ministry, replacing it with the headquarters for its “morality police”. “We are very concern about the safety of the survivors as well as shelter employees, judges and attorneys who helped the survivors of the domestic violence.” Said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. 

Attacks on Shia Minorities Increase in Afghanistan

The Taliban intelligence directorate asked school teachers in the Herat province to fill out a form to specify their religious identity, as well as their home address, duty station, and contact information last week.  This religious identification requirement caused panic among the Shia minorities living in the Herat province, some of whom strongly opposed the action.

A teacher told Kabul Now news that “we were never asked under the former government which Madhhab (school of Islam) – Sunni or Shia – we followed. We don’t know why they ask for specification of our religious identity.”  Teachers in Herat also expressed concern over the action and said that it would harm the unity between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Attacks on Shia minorities have increased in recent years. On August 1, 2017, the Islamic State took responsibility for the attack on Jawadia mosque, the largest Shia mosque in Herat, which killed 33 people and injured 66 others.

On October 20, 2017, the Islamic State bombed the Imam Zaman Shia mosque in Kabul, killing at least 58 people and injuring 45 more. On October 8, 2021, an explosion at a Shia mosque in Kunduz province killed 150 and injured 300 people. A week later, on October 15, 2021, there was another attack on a Shia mosque in Kandahar that killed and injured over 100 Shia minorities. The Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) took the responsibility for the attacks.

Shia minorities’ schools, hospitals, and universities have also been attacked. This week, there were two separate attacks on public busses located in the Dasht-e Barchi neighborhood of western Kabul, an area where the Hazara Shia minorities live. During the previous government, Shias were allowed to have guards to protect their mosques, but since the Taliban returned in mid-August, they took away the guns and left the Shia’s mosques without guards or protection.

Sources: KabulNow 11/16/21; BBC News 8/2/17; Human Rights Watch 10/25/21;

Afghan Women’s Rights Activists Murdered

Last week, bodies of four Afghan women’s activists were discovered in Mazar-i-Sharif, northern Afghanistan. One of the victims was identified as Frozan Safi, a 30-year-old activist and private university economics lecturer. According to Safi’s family, she left her home on October 27 after she received an anonymous call asking her to collect her documents because they would take her abroad. Frozan was expecting a call as she was waiting to leave the country, her request for asylum in Germany was in progress. Her body, along with the bodies of three other women were found in a pit near the Khalid ibn al-Walid town in Mazar-i-Sharif. “

Her face was destroyed by the bullets, there were bullet wounds all over, too many to count, on her head, heart, chest, kidneys, and legs,” her sister told the reporter.

According to the Australian news, the four victims said to have participated in public demonstrations against Taliban repression. Afghan women have been protesting almost every week since the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, demanding their rights to education and work. But as time passed, the Taliban became increasingly harsh and have in fact known to beat women, many women have gone into hiding, and now the bodies of four women protestors have been found.

Heather Barr, associate women’s rights director of the Human Rights Watch, told The Weekend Australian, “it felt like it was just a matter of time, we knew they had been tracking women down after protests to ­intimidate them. This is a scary new development.”

While no group has claimed responsibility for the murders, the incident adds to fear for women’s rights activists, as well as previous government employees and national security forces who have been reportedly targeted and assassinated since the Taliban retook the country.

Sources: The Guardian 11/5/21; The Australian

Starving Afghan Families Forced to Sell Their Daughters for Food

A recent CNN video features Afghan families who are unable to afford food at the displacement camps selling their daughters to old men in order to survive. The video shows a nine-year-old, Parwana, who was sold to a man as old as 70, for 200,000 Afghanis, approximately $2,200 on October 22.

The incidents took place in Qala-e-Naw, the capital of the province of Badghis, a region badly affected by the drought. In the video, Parwana says that her dream is to go to school and become a teacher, she cried and resisted as she is being taken from her family by the man who bought her for “marriage.”  The man told CNN that he bought her because her father was very poor and needed money for his family to buy food. He said that Parwana will work at his home and he won’t beat her and will be kind to her.

CNN also interviewed two other families who sold their daughters to cover their grocery bills and pay their debts. The families told CNN that they had no other choice but to pay with their daughters.

Although child marriage is not new in Afghanistan, war, poverty, the Taliban’s restrictions against women being employed, and climate change have caused vulnerable and desperate Afghan families to sell their daughters in recent years. According to leaders of the village and the displaced people’s camp, “numbers of young girls getting ‘betrothed’ started to rise during a 2018 famine and surged this year when the rains failed once more.”

The situation of the internally displaced people also got worse since the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, which has caused more insecurity for aid workers, higher levels of unemployment, and a reduction in international aid. According to the UN, banning women in the workplace has increased poverty in Afghanistan.  According to the World Food Program (WFP), more than half of the population of Afghanistan, around 22.8 million people, will face acute food insecurity starting this month.

Sources: CNN 11/1/21; World Food Programme

Afghan Women Protest: “Why is the world watching us die in silence?”

A number of Afghan women took to the streets of Kabul on Tuesday to protest the world’s silence over the current situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. Videos on social media show Afghan women activists gathering at the gates of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in Kabul and holding signs which read, “Why is the world watching us die in silence?” and “We want our rights to education and work.” They also asked for the opening of schools for girls and exclaimed that their rights should not be violated.

Similarly to previous recent protests, the Taliban harassed these women and attempted to prevent the media from filming the protest. Wahida Amiri, one of the protest organizers, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP), “We are asking the UN secretary-general to support our rights, to education, to work. We are deprived of everything today.” The women protesters also called the UN’s silence against the current situation of women in Afghanistan “shameful.”

Source: Times of India 10/26/21

UN Chief: “We Will Defend the Rights of Afghan Women and Girls”

On Saturday, Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres tweeted that “in Afghanistan, the UN is staying and delivering, and will continue to promote and defend the rights of women and girls. We will not stop until girls can go back to school, and women can return to their jobs and participate in public life.”

Since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan on August 15, a majority of women employees have lost their jobs and have been asked to stay at home “for their own safety.” Afghanistan’s public universities and most of the country’s public schools above grade six are closed to women and girls.

In his recent statement, Guterres said that he was always “deeply moved by the courage, resilience, and determination of Afghan women and girls,” and he urged the Taliban to keep their promises to women and girls and fulfill their obligations under the international human rights and humanitarian law. “Broken promises lead to broken dreams for the women and girls of Afghanistan”, he stated. “Women and girls need to be the center of attention”. 

Source: UN News 10/11/21

Taliban Killings of Hazaras Continue

Evidence found by Amnesty International shows that Taliban forces unlawfully killed 13 Hazaras who are Shia Muslims, including a teenage girl and eleven Hazara members of the former Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) in Daykundi province on August 30. A previous Amnesty report released in August also found that the Taliban had “massacred” nine members of the Hazara minority in Ghazni province in July.

“These cold-blooded executions are further proof that the Taliban are committing the same horrific abuses they were notorious for during their previous rule of Afghanistan,” said Agnès Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International.

According to an Amnesty report published yesterday, around 300 Taliban fighters traveled on August 30 to Dahani Qul, where members of the former government forces were staying with their families, and the Taliban opened fire on the victims as they attempted to flee.

Meanwhile, the Taliban is forcefully displacing indigenous Hazaras from their fertile lands in central Afghanistan. Recently, 1200 Hazara families were ordered to leave their homes in Daikundi province after men linked to the Taliban claimed ownership of about 15 villages.

Qari Saeed Khosti, the Taliban’s interior ministry spokesman, rejected the Amnesty report, saying that it is one-sided and free of transparency. “We call on all international organizations to come and conduct a proper investigation in the field,” he said.

Afghanistan’s third-largest ethnic group, about 20% of the population, Hazaras have faced long-term discrimination and persecution in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Killings of the previous Afghan government forces and Hazaras contradict the Taliban’s claim that they forgave Afghanistan’s previous government employees including former soldiers and minorities.

Sources: BBC 10/5/21; Amnesty International 10/5/21; TRT World 9/29/21

The Taliban Continues to Silence Afghan Women Protestors

Videos and images shared on social media show that the Taliban are violently beating and harassing a group of women protestors demanding their rights for education in Kabul on Thursday.

Women protesters were holding banners that read, “Do not politicize education. Don’t break our pens, don’t burn our books, don’t close our school, education is human identity.” 

The videos also show that the Taliban are firing shots into the air, grabbing cameras from a reporter and threatening women not to take any photos or videos.

Since retaking the country on August 15th, the Taliban leadership suspended girls middle school, aged between 13-18, and the country’s public universities remain closed for girls. Private universities remain open and classes are segregated by gender. The Taliban said that they won’t allow girls to go to school and university “until an Islamic environment is created.” Mohammad Ashraf Ghairat, a Taliban official wrote on his Twitter account that “As long as a real Islamic environment is not provided for all, women will not be allowed to come to universities or work. Islam first.”

Sources: News 18 9/30/21; CNN 9/30/21

The Taliban Has Already Rolled Back Afghan Women’s Human Rights

A recent NY Times article featured four Afghan women in the US: two humanitarian activists, a lawyer, and a journalist. The four women raised concern over women and girls in Afghanistan and fear a dark future for the women in their country.

“Just two days before the Taliban took over again, the country released the scores of the national university entrance exams. A girl got the highest score in the country. What happens to her now?”  said Fariha, a human rights activist.

During the last 20 years, Afghan women made some amazing achievements including getting an education at the highest levels of Masters and PhDs, serving in public positions in many high levels, and participating in public without being forced to cover. With the Taliban taking over on August 15th, their future remains unclear and bleak.

During a recent debate between a Taliban leader and a woman journalist on TOLO news, the journalist fearlessly asked for her right to work, but the Taliban leader did not have a convincing answer. The Taliban has not issued any new order whether women are allowed to work and whether they will be allowed to participate in public events either. Afghan women took to the streets of Kabul, Herat, and other major cities demanding their fundamental rights be granted, including the right to education and political participation. When Afghan women protested, the Taliban reacted violently, by beating and whipping the women protesters. It has been a week since Afghan women, fearful for their lives have protested, as the Taliban demand that they ask for permission to protest. Many Afghan women activists, journalists, musicians, and educators had to go into hiding for their safety.

“Every single day, I wake up with a heavy chest. I was once a role model for my generation, they saw me as someone who was helping make a difference for them. And now look where I am. I don’t even have hope for myself. I am lost — lost between borders,” said Hadia, 24.

The Taliban has also changed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to the Ministry of Propagation of Islamic Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. In their most recent action, their Ministry of Education asked all male students in high schools to resume their classes on September 18, 2021, dropping girls from the announcement, leading many to wonder and question the fate of education for young girls in Afghanistan. 

Tolo Aug. 19, 2021/ Guardian Sep. 3, 2021/ MS. Sep. 8, 2021/ USA Aug. 25, 2021/ FB account of the Ministry of Education, Sep. 17, 2021

Sohaila Siddiq: A Feminist Icon, Public Servant, and Lieutenant General

Afghanistan’s first female lieutenant general, Suhalia Siddiq, died on December 4 at the same hospital where she served as one of the top surgeons in the country for 36 years. This long-time feminist icon was one of only two women appointed to the cabinet after the removal of the Taliban from power in 2002. She led the Public Health Ministry until 2004 during the transitional government led by President Karzai. General Siddiq was in her early 80s and died of Covid-19 complications.

Growing up in a Pashtun family, Gen. Siddiq’s mother was a teacher and her father was a regional governor in Kandahar. Both encouraged their six daughters to go to school and pursue careers. She studied at Kabul Medical University, followed by years of medical training in Moscow in the 1960s. She returned to her country, persevering during the difficult years of wars, and committed to serving her people, something she took pride in for all her life.

When the Taliban took control and banned all women from working outside the home, the group specifically asked General Sohaila to return to her job at the hospital. She returned to her duty only on the condition that she and her sister not be made to wear burkas or any face covering in public. In an interview with the Guardian in 2002, she is quoted as saying, “The Taliban agreed. It was not exactly a victory for me, but they certainly needed me to be there. Even when I went to Kandahar (the birthplace of the Taliban) I never wore a burka.”

During the Soviet-Afghan war in the mid-1980s, Gen. Siddiq was promoted to surgeon general of the Afghan Army hospital by the Communist-backed government in Kabul. As the surgeon general of one of the most prominent hospitals in the country, she saved the lives of hundreds of wounded soldiers and civilians during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and then during the civil war. One close friend remembers her as generous and kind, both with her time and self to serving the people. “After one especially deadly attack, she performed surgery for 24 hours straight. When a patient desperately needed a pint of blood one day, she donated it herself.”

Before stepping down in 2004 to return to her job as a surgeon, she led a program to vaccinate millions of children against polio, rehired female health workers who lost their jobs under the Taliban and promoted reproductive health and programs to combat HIV/AIDS. Afghan media reported that Gen. Siddiq had no immediate survivors. She never married and is famous for saying she did so because she “didn’t want to take any orders from a man.”

President Ashraf Ghani, First Lady Rula Ghani, along with several feminist leaders attended her funeral, while former president, Karzai called her “one of the most experienced and popular doctors in the country,” someone who “dedicated herself to serving the country and its people.”

Herat’s Women’s Soccer Team Won Afghanistan’s National League Finale

Afghanistan’s National League Finale for both women and men started its ninth season on September 24, 2020. Women’s soccer teams from Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Jawzjan, Ghor, and Bamiyan played in this year’s season in Kabul. Team Herat won the title for Women’s Football (American soccer) League after defeating Kabul 3-2 in a thrilling match on Sunday. Herat’s team also earned six league points by defeating Jawzjan. Ghor’s team qualified for the semifinals after defeating Balkh. “It was a good match… We will make greater efforts in the upcoming matches. I have scored eight goals in the league so far,” said Fatima Haidari, a member of Herat’s team.

Despite the Taliban’s threats and their historical exclusion from the national sport Buzkashi, Afghan women’s participation in sports has been on the rise. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghan women have been participating in numerous sports such as cycling, bowling, tracking, hiking, cricket, soccer, taekwondo, and boxing. Women in big cities like Kabul, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif run their own sports clubs. There are also a few swimming pools just for women.

Afghan women athletes have also participated in international games. In 2016’s Summer Olympics, Kimia Yusufi competed against the best of the best in the 100-meter track heat. She was one of three athletes, and the only woman, representing Afghanistan in Rio. Although the Afghan government built playgrounds in girls’ schools to encourage their participation in sports, women athletes continue to call attention to the lack of facilities and resources. Some teams are garnering support from western donors; the United States has been one of the leading supporters of women’s engagement in sports in Afghanistan.

The right to be physically active and engage in outdoor activities is still not a reality for most Afghan women. One major barrier is a stigma that views women’s presence outside the house as a shameful taboo, believing outdoor activities to be only for men. Gyms and parks are often male-only spaces where women still face harassment. The match among Afghanistan’s women’s soccer teams was live on TOLO TV, which helped normalize women’s participation in sports and encourage more girls and women to join.

Source: Tolo News 10/16/2020

Afghan Women are Paving the Way for Future Athletes

This week, Afghanistan’s Kimia Yusufi competed against the best of the best in the 100-meter track heat at the 2016 Summer Olympics. She was one of three athletes, and the only woman, representing Afghanistan in Rio.

Despite their underrepresentation at the Games and their historical exclusion from the national sport Buzkashi, Afghan women participated in athletics prior to the country’s immersion into decades of war. In fact, Afghanistan had their first women’s cycling team in 1986 and girls engaged in sports as a part of their school curriculum. Female athletes even traveled to other countries to compete.

When the Taliban came to power in 1996, they banned women from sports and outdoor activities, in addition to placing a number of restrictions and regulations on men’s sports. There were very few spaces for men to exercise and they were required to wear long pants and sleeves.

After the fall of the Taliban, there were noticeable improvements in women’s participation in sports and outdoor activities. With the support of the international community, the Afghan government built new playgrounds for school girls and many sports teams for women were created. The new unity government encourages women and girls to play both nationally and internationally. The women’s soccer team has brought home many medals and paved the way for increased opportunities for female athletes. In 2004, two Afghan women competed in the Olympics for the first time in the history of the country. Women and girls are now engaging in many sporting activities from skiing on the hills of Bamyan to climbing the country’s tallest mountains.

Despite these tremendous accomplishments, the fight for Afghan women’s full participation in all sports is far from over. The right to be physically active and engage in outdoor activities is still not a reality for most Afghan women. One major barrier is persisting mentalities that see women’s presence outside the house as a shameful taboo, believing outdoor activities to be only for men. Gyms and parks are often male-only spaces where women still face harassment.

Luckily this is changing. In urban centers, like Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, people are now more aware of the importance of exercising and they are adopting the culture of outing and picnicking, with many families bringing their weekend meals to the parks. There are some gyms, sport clubs, parks and even a few swimming pools just for women.

Kabul and Mazar have many parks for women and families. In Herat Province, women go to Takhti-e-Safar where they can exercise and enjoy the morning fresh air. In Takhar, women and girls go to picnics in a place called Chashma area in district of Taluqan. Since men are prohibited from entering this area on Wednesdays, women take the chance to swim in the river.

Regardless of gender and age, people need exercise, fun and fresh air. Women should have the chance to exercise in safe spaces. On this front, from Kimia Yusufi running in Rio, to Sadaf Rahimi boxing in Kabul, we are breaking barriers every day.

Republished with permission from: Free Women Writers 8/16/16.

Media Resources: Tolo News 8/12/16; Afghanistan Online 1/26/16; People 3/8/16; Afghan Ski Challenge; The World Post 3/2/16; CBS News.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Hope for Afghan Women

In this time of transition for Afghanistan, we need to remember the progress of Afghan women over the past decade and work together to sustain it. Shoulder-to-Shoulder is about Afghan women’s own experiences – as told in their own words. Share these stories, and your own, on Twitter using #ShoulderToShoulder; you can also take our pledge today to stand with Afghan women’s activists.

The six years of the Taliban regime were the darkest years of my life. I spent every moment in fear. During the Taliban regime, I felt like a bird in a cage, but I never lost hope. When I wrote about the bad times in my diary, I also wrote about my dreams for better days for all Afghan people, and for myself.

I saw the Taliban beating my mother for going outside of our home without a male family member – my mother’s neck still hurts. The Taliban beat my brother and put him at the jail for listening to music. And I still remember the night the Taliban kidnapped a young girl from our neighborhood. I heard the girl’s shrieks as they carried her away. For a very long time after that, I would sit in my bedroom at night and not go to sleep for fear the Taliban would climb the wall of our house and kidnap me. Every morning, I opened my eyes and wished only that the day would end without me losing any of my family members.

Because we are Shia, the Taliban didn’t consider us Muslims or Afghans. They wanted us to leave Afghanistan and go to Iran. But we were not welcomed in Iran; we were not even allowed to work there.

The best moment of my life came in 2001 when I heard on the radio that the Taliban were no longer in power. After that, schools opened for both girls and boys. I was very happy because I could go to school. I was allowed to listen to music, watch TV and go on picnics with my family without any fear. People got jobs. Women started to work outside of their homes.

via The UN
via The UN

People’s lives improved dramatically. During that Taliban regime, I was not sure that I would ever go to school, but now I am a college graduate and so are my sisters and my brother. I am helping other women in my country to become educated, have equal rights and equal opportunities. I am very happy to see that now people of Afghanistan want both their sons and daughters get an education. Many Afghan men and women are learning about their rights. Many Afghan men support Afghan women and respect their rights. Men even vote for women who want to become politicians. Today Afghan women drive cars and they participate in our society, economy, politics and army.

Although I am very happy about Afghan women’s achievements, I worry that the international community may leave us alone. Even with all of the progress in Afghanistan, I still have nightmares when I think about those dark days of the Taliban regime. I believe everything takes time; we have come a long way, but we still need United States help and support.

I would like to thank all of the people and organizations – including the Feminist Majority Foundation – who have supported Afghan women. Now, my hope is that the United States and the international community will stay with us.

New Campaign Encourages Women to Participate in Afghanistan’s Next Election

content translated and modified from a press release.

On Tuesday, September 17, the Afghan Women’s Political Participation Committee held a press conference on their “For Whom Am I Voting?” campaign in Herat, Afghanistan. The conference was meant to support and promote women’s participation and utilization of the women’s vote in the next election. Women’s rights advocates, intellectuals and journalists attended this conference; women advocates discussed their concerns and demands about the upcoming elections in April of 2014.

via Facebook
via Facebook

On September 10th, Dr. Alima, the head of the Afghan Women’s Political Participation Committee gave an interview to TOLO News. Dr. Alima talked about Afghan women’s voting rights and how they should evaluate candidates in the spring elections. According to Dr. Alima, female voters should only support candidates that believe in gender equality and women’s rights.

According to TOLO news, the campaign will remind Afghan women about their power to shape the political system of the country, as well as the importance of not supporting human rights violators and candidates who do not believe in the merits of women’s empowerment. The committee’s campaign was launched with posters, which they distributed all over Afghanistan.


The posters say:

– I am voting for a person who respects women’s rights and  respects Article 22 of the constitution which emphasizes equal rights of men and women.

– I am voting for a person who will stand for an accountable and transparent government, free of corruption and inequality.

–  I am voting for a person who guarantees to support women’s participation in decision-making institutions such as the Court and Cabinet.

–  I am voting for someone who will stand against the illegal and inhumane tribal decisions and punish those who make these decisions against women.

–  I am voting for a person who will stand against the harmful traditions,  improve women’s lives and will take action to create a safe environment to for girls to get their education.

–  I am voting for someone who will stop violence, especially violence against women, implement, and enforce the Violence Against Women Act.

–  I am voting for a person who will respect and follow the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants of human rights.

–  I am voting for someone who guarantees the safety and security of women.


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