Friday, 18 November 2011

What it would be like for women to live under Taliban rule

Siddiqa and Khayyam eloped to Pakistan after she fled an arranged Afghan marriage and he left his wife and two children behind in Kunduz. Last summer, they were persuaded by village elders that it was safe to return to Afghanistan.

It was a terrible mistake. They were dragged from their families’ homes at 2 a.m. by Taliban fighters and then put before a kangaroo court before being executed for adultery.

And now horrific video footage has emerged of Taliban insurgents stoning them. Hundreds of villagers can be seen on the video standing around as Siddiqa, 19, is buried up to her waist in a metre-deep hole.

Two mullahs pass sentence before the crowd begins to throw rocks at her head and body as she desperately tries to crawl free. But she collapses to the ground, covered in blood. A Taliban fighter then shoots her three times in the head. The crowd can be heard shouting “allahu akbar” (God is Great) as she is killed.

Her lover, Khayyam, is then marched in front of the crowd with his hands tied behind his back. He is blindfolded with his own tunic and crouches down close to the ground as he tried to protect his body from the stones. But he is battered to the floor by a barrage of rocks. He can be heard sobbing before eventually falling silent. The stoning — the first to be documented on film since the Taliban were ousted from power — took place in the district of Dashte Archi, in Kunduz.

Officials said that Siddiqa had run away after being sold into an arranged marriage for $9,000 against her will. She ran away to be with Khayyam, who was already married and had two children, and the pair eloped to Pakistan.

The area remains under Taliban control, but regional police have said those behind the stoning will be charged. “Special police investigators will be sent there, we will find them and they will be brought to justice,” police chief General Daoud Daoud told the BBC.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid defended the stoning. “Anyone who knows about Islam knows that stoning is in the Qur’an, and that it is Islamic law,’’ he told the BBC. “There are people who call it inhuman — but in doing so they insult the Prophet. They want to bring foreign thinking to this country.”

While in power in Afghanistan, the Taliban became notorious internationally for their treatment of women. Their stated aim was to create ‘secure environments where the chasteness and dignity of women may once again be sacrosanct,’ reportedly based on Pashtunwali beliefs about living in purdah. (the practice of concealing women from men)

Segregation of women from men

In a systematic segregation sometimes referred to as Gender apartheid, women were not allowed to work, they were not allowed to be educated after the age of eight, and until then were permitted only to study the Qur'an. Women seeking an education were forced to attend underground schools, where they and their teachers risked execution if caught. They were not allowed to be treated by male doctors unless accompanied by a male chaperone, which led to illnesses remaining untreated. They faced public flogging and execution for violations of the Taliban's laws. The Taliban allowed and in some cases encouraged marriage for girls under the age of 16. Amnesty International reported that 80 percent of Afghan marriages were considered to be by force.

From the age of eight, women were not allowed to be in direct contact with men, other than a close blood relative, husband, or in-law. Other restrictions were:

• Women should not appear in the streets without a blood relative and without wearing a Burqa

• Women should not wear high-heeled shoes as no man should hear a woman’s footsteps lest it excite him.

• Women must not speak loudly in public as no stranger should hear a woman's voice.

• All ground and first floor residential windows should be painted over or screened to prevent women being visible from the street.

• The photographing or filming of women was banned as was displaying pictures of females in newspapers, books, shops or the home.

• The modification of any place names that included the word "women." For example, "women's garden" was renamed "spring garden".

• Women were forbidden to appear on the balconies of their apartments or houses.

• Ban on women's presence on radio, television or at public gatherings of any kind.

The Taliban rulings regarding public conduct placed severe restrictions on a woman's freedom of movement and created difficulties for those who could not afford a burqa or didn't have any mahram. These women faced virtual house arrest. A woman who was badly beaten by the Taliban for walking the streets alone stated "my father was killed in battle...I have no husband, no brother, no son. How am I to live if I can't go out alone?

A mahram is an unmarriageable kin with whom sexual intercourse would be considered incestuous, which is a punishable taboo. Mahrams include permanent or blood mahrams with whom one is mahram by a blood relationship such as a father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, great-grandfather, great-grandmother; brother, sister; son, grandson, great-grandson, daughter, grand-daughter, great-grand-daughter; uncle, aunt, great-uncle, great-aunt; nephew, niece, grandnephew, grandniece, great-grandnephew, great-grandniece.

Ban on women riding bicycles or motorcycles, even with their mahrams. Women were forbidden to ride in a taxi without a mahram. Segregated bus services were introduced to prevent males and females traveling on the same bus.

Banning of women from employment

The Taliban disagreed with past Afghan statutes that allowed the employment of women in a mixed sex workplace. They claimed this was a breach of purdah and sharia law.

On September 30, 1996, the Taliban decreed that all women should be banned from employment.

It is estimated that 25 percent of government employees were female, and when compounded by losses in other sectors, many thousands of women were affected. This had a devastating impact on household incomes, especially on vulnerable or widow-headed households, which were common in Afghanistan.

Another loss was for those whom the employed women served. Elementary education of children, not just girls, was shut down in Kabul, where virtually all of the elementary school teachers were women. Thousands of educated families fled Kabul for Pakistan after the Taliban took the city in 1996.

Among those who remained in Afghanistan, there was an increase in mothers and children begging on the streets as the loss of vital income reduced many families to the margin of survival.

Taliban Supreme Leader Mohammed Omar assured female civil servants and teachers they would still receive wages of around US$5 per month, although this was a short term offering. A Taliban representative stated: "The Taliban’s act of giving monthly salaries to 30,000 job-free women, now sitting comfortably at home, is a whiplash in the face of those who are defaming Taliban with reference to the rights of women. These people through baseless propaganda are trying to incite the women of Kabul against the Taliban".

The Taliban promoted the use of the extended family, or zakat system of charity to ensure women should not need to work. However, years of conflict meant that nuclear families often struggled to support themselves let alone aid additional relatives. Qualification for legislation often rested on men, such as food aid which must be collected by a male relative. The possibility that a woman may not possess any male relatives was dismissed by Mullah Ghaus, the acting foreign minister, who was surprised at the degree of international attention and concern for such a small percentage of the Afghan population. For rural women there was generally little change in their circumstance, as their lives were dominated by the unpaid domestic, agricultural and reproductive labour necessary for subsistence.

Female health professionals were exempted from the employment ban, yet they operated in much-reduced circumstances. The ordeal of physically getting to work due to the segregated bus system and widespread harassment meant some women left their jobs by choice. Of those who remained, many lived in fear of the regime and chose to reside at the hospital during the working week to minimize exposure to Taliban forces.

These women were vital to ensuring the continuance of gynaecological, ante-natal and midwifery services, be it on a much compromised level. Under the Rabbani regime, there had been around 200 female staff working in Kabul's Mullalai Hospital, yet barely 50 remained under the Taliban. NGOs operating in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2002 found the shortage of female health professionals to be a significant obstacle to their work.

The other exception to the employment ban allowed a reduced number of humanitarian workers to remain in service. The Taliban segregation codes meant women were invaluable for gaining access to vulnerable women or conducting outreach research. This exception was not sanctioned by the entire Taliban movement, so instances of female participation, or lack thereof, varied with each circumstance. The town of Herat was particularly affected by Taliban adjustments to the treatment of women, as it had been one of the more cosmopolitan and outward-looking areas of Afghanistan prior to 1995. Women were allowed to work in a limited range of jobs, but this was stopped by Taliban authorities. The new governor of Herat, Mullah Razzaq, issued orders for women to be forbidden to pass his office for fear of their distracting nature.

Denying the education of girls and women

The Taliban claimed to recognize their Islamic duty to offer education to both boys and girls, yet a decree was passed that banned girls above the age of 8 from receiving instruction. Maulvi Kalamadin insisted it was only a temporary suspension and that females would return to school and work once facilities and street security were adapted to prevent cross-gender contact.

The Taliban wished to have total control of Afghanistan before calling upon an Ulema body to determine the content of a new curriculum to replace the Islamic yet unacceptable Mujahadin version.

The Taliban requested time to achieve these ends and criticized the international aid community for its insistence on binding support to the immediate return of women’s rights. The Taliban believed in the merit of their actions, and a representative stated in an Iranian interview “no other country has given women the rights we have given them. We have given women the rights that God and His Messenger have instructed, that is to stay in their homes and to gain religious instruction in hijab”.

The female employment ban was felt greatly in the education system. Within Kabul alone the ruling affected 106,256 girls, 148,223 boys and 8,000 female university undergraduates. 7,793 female teachers were dismissed, a move that crippled the provision of education and caused 63 schools to close due to a sudden lack of educators.. Some women ran clandestine schools within their homes for local children, or for other women under the guise of sewing classes, such as the Golden Needle Sewing School. The learners, parents and educators were aware of the consequences should the Taliban discover their activities, but for those who felt trapped under the strict Taliban rule, such actions allowed them a sense of self-determination and hope.

Taliban punishments

Punishments were often carried out publicly, either as formal spectacles held in sports stadiums or town squares or spontaneous street beatings. Civilians lived in fear of harsh penalties as there was little mercy; women caught breaking decrees were often treated with force. Examples:

In October 1996, a woman had the tip of her thumb cut off for wearing nail varnish.

In December 1996, Radio Shari’a announced that 225 Kabul women had been seized and punished for violating the sharia code of dress. The sentence was handed down by a tribunal and the women were lashed on their legs and backs for their misdemeanor.

In May 1997, five female CARE International employees with authorization from the Ministry of the Interior to conduct research for an emergency feeding programme were forced from their vehicle by members of the religious police. The guards used a public address system to insult and harass the women before striking them with a metal and leather whip over 1.5 meters (almost 5 feet) in length.

In 1999, a mother of seven was executed in front of 30,000 spectators in Kabul’s Ghazi Sport stadium for allegedly murdering her abusive husband while he was asleep who had allegedly beaten her. She was imprisoned for three years and extensively tortured prior to the execution, yet she refused to plead her innocence in a bid to protect her daughter (reportedly the actual culprit).

When a Taliban raid discovered a woman running an informal school in her apartment, they beat the children and threw the woman down a flight of stairs (breaking her leg), and then imprisoned her. They threatened to stone her family publicly if she refused to sign a declaration of loyalty to the Taliban and their laws.

An Afghan girl named Bibi Aisha was promised to a new family through a tribal method of solving disputes known as baad. When she fled the violence girls often suffer under baad, her new family found her and a Taliban commander ordered her punished as an example, "lest other girls in the village try to do the same thing". Her ears and nose were cut off and she was left for dead in the mountains, but survived.

Working women are threatened into quitting their jobs. Failure to comply with

Taliban's threats has led to women being shot and killed as in the case of 22-year old Hossai in July 2010.

Many punishments were carried out by individual militias without the sanction of Taliban authorities, as it was against official Taliban policy to punish women in the street. A more official line was the punishment of men for instances of female misconduct: a reflection of a patriarchal society and the belief that men are duty bound to control women. Maulvi Kalamadin stated in 1997, “since we cannot directly punish women, we try to use taxi drivers and shopkeepers as a means to pressurize them" to conform. Examples of the punishment of men:

If a taxi driver picked up a female customer with her face uncovered or unaccompanied by a mahram then he faced a jail sentence and the husband would be punished.

If a woman was caught washing clothes in a river then she would be escorted home by Islamic authorities where her husband/mahram would be severely punished.
Tailors found taking female measurements faced imprisonment.

My final comments

The world has no place for the Taliban. It is a sect that operates under the auspices of men who believe that they are superior to women and that women are no different than chattels the men own. As far as the Taliban is concerned, women serve only two purposes in their lives. They are sex objects and slaves.

What I find repugnant is that the Afghan authorities are actually attempting to bring the Taliban back into Afghanistan.

No comments: