Two days after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the country’s first female paralympian, Zakia Khudadadi, made a heartfelt plea to the world. She hoped to leave the country to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, which open on August 24.
“Please, I request you all, especially all the women from around the globe and the female institutions and the United Nations to not let the right of a female citizen of Afghanistan in the Paralympic movement to be taken away, so easily,” said the 23-year-old Khudadadi, a taekwondo athlete.
She’s among the many women in Afghanistan who worry about their future in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, declared on August 19 by the Taliban. The militant group is known for their ultra-conservative views and harsh edicts on women, which they exercised during their rule from 1996 to 2001.
A female educator and activist in Afghanistan called on the Taliban to prioritize women’s rights.
“I want to stand up for my girls in my community and my girls in my charity, I want to stand up for their rights, which is education and working rights,” Pashtana Durrani said.
Durrani said she decided to stay her country despite the uncertainty.
On social media, views are mixed about the kind of life under Taliban rule. Some vowed to flee, while others feel there’s no need to worry.
Has the Taliban changed?
There seemed to be a gesture of change.
Afghanistan’s 24-hour news network, TOLO, on August 16 broadcast an interview between one of their female anchors and a Taliban official. The story made headlines as women presenters were briefly taken off air after the Taliban took over Kabul.
That same day, a Taliban spokesman said press freedom and women’s rights would be protected.
“We will allow women to work, women are an important element of the society, and we respect them,” said Zabihullah Mujahid.
Women from all walks of life would have an active presence in society, Mujahid added.
He said women’s rights would be honored in accordance with Sharia law. Sharia is the Islamic law derived from the teachings of the Quran, stories of the prophet Mohammed’s life, and the rulings of religious scholars.
Amid their hasty pullout from Afghanistan, the European Union, the U.S. and 19 other countries issued a joint statement on August 18 saying they would keep a close watch on the situation in Afghanistan.
“We will monitor closely how any future government ensures rights and freedoms that have become an integral part of the life of women and girls in Afghanistan during the last twenty years,” the statement read.
A day later, in an exclusive interview with CGTN, Taliban spokesman Suhai Shaheen said there was no reason for women to worry.
“The women journalists are working, the teachers are working, the doctors are working, the students are studying, the schools are open, the universities are open,” Shaheen said.
Despite skepticism over the Taliban’s pledges, the new leadership says it stands by its word.
“We want all the international community to be sure what we will be abide by our commitments,” said Spokesperson Mujahid.
The Taliban would seek no revenge, but an inclusive Islamic government, he said.
A history of Afghan women
The Taliban governed Afghanistan from 1996-2001 and imposed their own harsh rules of Islamic life. Girls were banned from schools, while women were unable to work.
They also had to wear an outer garment from head to toe called the burqa and could not leave the house without a male escort. Any violation would be met with severe punishment, including public beatings and executions.
The Taliban collapsed in 2001 after a US-led NATO invasion in response to the 9/11 terror attacks. The U.S. accused the Taliban of providing shelter to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, who claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The Bush administration claimed to reshape Afghanistan’s democracy. It was part of his Greater Middle East campaign effort, which led him to launch the war against Iraq in 2003.
The Afghan War killed 47,245 civilians, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.
The Asian Development Bank says 47.3 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line in 2020.
The United Nations says some 2.7 million Afghans are refugees, with a significant percentage of women and children.
However, as explosions, rockets, and gunfire occasionally fell on the war-torn nation, restrictions on women were eased under the western-backed government. Girls returned to school while women participated elections.
In 2009, a law on Elimination of Violence against Women was passed as a milestone of policy reform in women’s rights.
The Taliban’s return to power is considered by many to be a huge step back for women’s rights.
Only time can tell if the new leaders will stay true to their promises.
Report by Zhao Yunfei, CGTN