Afghan Women facing Annihilation, Showing Resistance

Hosai Qasmi

It has been one and a half years since the Taliban took over Afghanistan. It has been one and a half years since the world, and Afghan politicians failed Afghan women. It has been one and a half years since Afghan women have been facing misogyny of the brutally repressive regime of the Taliban and abandonment by the world. It has been one and a half years since Afghan women have been living under gender apartheid. Since the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan women have been subjected to exclusion and increasing restrictions on their access to employment, education, movement, and appearance.

The 2001 military intervention of the United States in Afghanistan, along with its international partners, was rationalized as a “war on terror” and a “war to liberate Afghan women.” However, today their feminist foreign policies have proven to be unconcerned about Afghan women since they do not fit their interests and agenda.

The U.S. has publicly committed to the women, peace, and security agenda that acknowledges women’s central role in conflicts, negotiations, peace, and post-conflict stability, and even passed landmark legislation in 2017 to enact that agenda into law. Yet Afghan women were excluded and silenced at every stage of peace negotiations.

Since coming into power, or to say being handed the power, the Taliban told female government employees to stay home, closed girls’ schools, restricted female television presenters from showing their faces and prohibited female university students from attending university classes. Afghan women are facing symbolic annihilation, in other words, Afghan women and girls are facing systemic exclusion from every aspect of social, political, and public life.

Afghan women have played a significant role in sustaining and furthering progress and development despite threats and risks throughout history and continue to do so. They have fought for their rights and continue to do so, however, alone.

Their achievements are undeniable, particularly in the media sector. From absolute absence during the Taliban and mujahideen rule between 1990-2000 to active participation in all media sectors – television, radio, press, filmmaking and online presence – Afghan women have been active in various capacities – performers, journalists and consumers.

During the peace talks between the Taliban, the United States, and Afghanistan, there were concerns and fears of compromising the freedom of media and achievements of the last 20 years, especially women’s presence and role in the media sector. We are witnessing those concerns and fears turning into reality today. According to Reporters Without Borders, since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, 40 percent of Afghan media organizations have closed, and 80 percent of female journalists have lost their jobs.

It is important to note that women’s representation in media, like any other arena, is essential for promoting equality and documenting their contributions to society, contrary to patriarchal mindsets that restrain women from practicing their rights and enjoying equality. Women’s devaluation and suppression are being normalized by eliminating them from social, political, and public arenas. the Taliban’s restriction on media for covering women’s protests against the government’s policies and laws towards women, eliminating women from politics, and restricting their social life and media presence is a form of symbolic annihilation where women’s voices are silenced and devalued.

Excluding women and silencing their voices further strengthens the patriarchal culture and forgoes achievements of the last two decades by women. Afghan women are fundamental to Afghan society, culture, and history, eliminating their voices, limiting them to specific gender norms that are neither Islamic nor adherent to Afghan culture, and reducing their presence in society means eliminating a significant part of Afghan history and culture.

Afghanistan is not the only country where women’s rights are under attack. However, the extent of the annihilation of women’s rights in Afghanistan is a caution to women everywhere. It demonstrates how fragile are the efforts toward equality.

Afghan women have time and again fought for their rights against oppression, injustice, and discrimination. Their movements have seen ups and downs, from Abdul Rahman Khan to Ashraf Ghani. Afghan women have had tremendous achievements and faced backlashes, denunciations, and opposition by religious, traditional, and conservative groups. Afghan women continue to deconstruct the atmosphere created by the Taliban by voicing their identities. Afghan women and girls use social media to share everyday life and activities through art, photography, and poetry. Though most of them hide their identity to maintain their safety, they exercise their autonomy and agency by using media to express themselves. In an environment that forces conformity to local rules and regulations, the media provide women a platform to resist. Women and girls using social media may not be aiming to be political. However, their acts are becoming a form of political protest, reserving Afghan culture, and defining their notion of womanhood.

On this International Women’s Day, where people worldwide will be celebrating women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements throughout history, Afghan women are retaking the fight for their fundamental rights. Despite the challenges and constraints, Afghan women continue to resist with strength. The Taliban and conservative groups may silence Afghan women, and the world may forget them, but Afghan women always rise strongly. On this International Women’s Day, the world must show solidarity with Afghan women as their fight for their rights is a fight for women’s rights everywhere.