Opinion

Women’s Watch: Afghan women suffer more since Kabul’s fall

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Since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on Aug. 15, numerous press conferences and statements by the Taliban have assured general amnesty and respect for women’s rights, but there is a major disconnect between what was said on TV and the Taliban actions on the ground.

Journalists and human rights defenders are facing death threats, beatings, attacks and killings.

The Taliban is conducting door-to-door searches forcing human rights activists to go underground or to flee the country. They are also resuming its ban on all music, forcing musicians to leave the country, and prohibiting women’s activities in sports, writing, art, or serving as judges, advocates, or singers.

According to Amnesty International, many human rights defenders who managed to leave the country are now stranded in military camps in neighboring countries, not knowing how they will rebuild their lives.

The Taliban has resumed its previous practices of requiring women to wear burkas, denying women the right to work outside the home, denying access to education, (boys are allowed to return to school, but not girls), exclusion of women from politics and repression of women’s protests. Access to health care is seriously restricted because women are not allowed to be seen by male physicians and must be accompanied by a male escort even when visiting a female doctor.

As shocking as Taliban abuses against women were in 2001, they are more so now. Women around the world have fought for their rights, with uneven but important successes. In the last 20 years, women and girls in Afghanistan have enjoyed a measure of freedom and are demanding more of it.

The United Nations is taking action. United Nations rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, has stated that, “a fundamental red line [in the UN’s Human Rights position] will be the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls, and respect for their rights to liberty, freedom of movement, education, self-expression and employment, guided by international human rights norms. In particular, ensuring access to quality secondary education for girls will be an essential indicator of commitment to human rights.”

Among the reported violations received by her office, the UN rights chief cited summary executions of civilians and members of the Afghan national security forces, recruitment of child soldiers, repression of peaceful protest and expressions of dissent. Echoing those concerns ahead of a UN vote on a draft resolution calling for investigations and accountability for rights abuses, Afghanistan’s Ambassador, Dr. Nasir Ahmad Andisha, described the prevailing sense of apprehension in the country, with “millions fearing for their lives”.

Andisha warned a humanitarian crisis was “unfolding as we speak,” and that thousands of people are at risk, from human rights defenders to journalists, academics, professionals, civil society members and former security personnel “who were the backbone, and we hope still will be, of a contemporary and democratic society.”

More than 23,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in the U S, most of whom are housed at military bases around the country. The number continues to grow. An additional 23,000 are at staging bases in Europe. Canada is accepting refugees. Australia and the UK will also be accepting refugees. The next step in the U.S. is identifying and screening. Many refugees arrived without travel documents.

The Department of Homeland Security has begun resettlement efforts and formed a multiagency Unified Coordination Group to assist refugees who came to America.

Presently, 18.4 million people remaining in Afghanistan urgently require humanitarian assistance. More than three in four Afghans are facing extreme hunger. Most families do not have the means to survive.

Wondering how you can help? Continue to educate yourself. Encourage elected officials to allow more refugees to enter the U S.

And support expert organizations already helping such as:

  • Arizona Immigration and Refugee Services: airsaz.org; 602-944-1821
  • International Rescue Committee: rescue.org; 602-433-2440
  • Catholic Charities Community Services: catholiccharitiesaz.org; 602-749-4415
  • Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Services: www.lirs.org; 480-396-3795
  • Malala Fund: malalafund.org

This humanitarian crisis needs help. Standing beside Afghan women in their struggle and finding tools to pressure the Taliban and the political will to do so, is the least, the very least, the international community can do.

Editor's note: Bonnie Boyce-Wilson wrote this for Women’s Watch; she is a member of the League of Women Voters, Northwest Maricopa County.

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