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  • Human Rights Research Center

“Do not let our country become a cemetery of our dreams and goals”: What you can do to support Afghan women and girls living under gender apartheid

July 9, 2024


Note: This is the sixth and final article in a series that covers girls’ education and gender apartheid in Afghanistan. You can read the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth articles here.



Following the second Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, how did the international community react? Predominately Islamic countries in the Middle East that have worked with the Taliban before spoke out against the ban on girls’ education, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and even Pakistan, where the Taliban also has a stronghold. The breaking of their usual silence signals just how far the Taliban has gone this time. Just as the world took stringent measures to counter gross human rights violations like the Holocaust and racial apartheid in South Africa, we must give Afghan women and girls the same energy and solidarity.


Moreover, there are actually many members of the Taliban who want to reverse the education ban, according to the country’s Minister of Education from before Taliban 2.0. With enough pressure from the international community, the Taliban could be strong-armed into allowing girls back into high schools and universities, a positive first step in ending gender apartheid and advancing gender equality. The Taliban isn’t monolithic, just like any other group, so these internal differences and disagreements should be strategically played upon to reopen schools. A Taliban Minister of Education has acquiesced and stated that girls can attend religious schools, madrassas, which are typically only for boys, but it is unknown if the curriculum will be standardized or only focused on Islamic education. Bahara Rustam, a 13-year-old, lamented that she and her classmates cried as they finished sixth grade because they knew their education was over and their dreams disappeared into thin air.


When discussing the situation in Afghanistan, it is extremely important to ensure we do not continue white saviorism or the harmful “saving brown women” rhetoric that the West often perpetuates. There is a problematic pattern of viewing Arab women as the oppressed and as exoticized victims: docile, humble women in need of saving. Meanwhile, Arab men are often portrayed as violent savages that women need to be saved from. These stereotypes are dangerous and inaccurate. A particular point of contention for people with these views is the idea of the hijab or the veil as a symbol of oppression and in opposition to liberation, when in fact it is a symbol of faith. Just like how some Christians choose to wear crosses, some Sikhs choose not to cut their hair or facial hair, and some Jewish men wear kippahs, some Muslim women choose to wear the hijab as a sign of their religion and commitment to God. Countries with a history of colonizing nations often have a narrow view of gender and freedom and reject anything that fits outside of the Western paradigm. While this shouldn’t need to be said, it bears mentioning: “The Taliban do not represent Afghan Muslim men, and their treatment of Afghan women is neither Islamic nor based on Afghan morals and values.”


Brishna, a student at Kabul University, speaks passionately about the decree requiring women to wear burkas, garments that cover the face and entire body:


“Women and girls must decide what they want to do or wear... I want to have a hijab [head scarf], but I do not want to cover my face. These are two different things… I want to be known in society… If I cover myself, I will not be me anymore... It is stupid to say that women should cover themselves so men aren’t attracted to them. Men must stop this madness. Sorry, I will not cover myself, and put myself in a cage, because you [men] are too weak to control yourself… This is 2022, and the Taliban want Afghan women to wear black and no other colour. Seriously? It makes no sense to me... The Taliban know that we have no choice but to accept it… If I refuse the burka and leave university, they win. If I wear a burka, they win… I am the one who has to sacrifice”.


The differences between common garments worn by Muslim women are shown in the below illustration:

Somaya Faruqi, a 19-year-old Afghan girl, spoke at the UN General Assembly in 2022 and pleaded with the international community to fight for gender equality and education for girls and women. Somaya is the former captain of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team and dreams of being an engineer. She is pictured below.


“The Taliban is slowly erasing our existence in society. Thousands of girls may never return to school. Many have already been married off…If Afghan girls deserve the right to education — do not let me and my Afghan sisters become victims of global politics. Do not let our country become a cemetery of our dreams and goals”


Her powerful words remind me of a quote from Black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde, which says “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” The world cannot and must not turn a blind eye to the crisis in Afghanistan, no matter if gender apartheid affects you personally or not. As humans, we cannot pick and choose what to care about if our fellow people are being oppressed. Engaging in selective empathy diminishes our shared humanity. We must not let these girls down. So what can you do to support women and girls in Afghanistan? Educate yourself (these articles are a great start), speak up, and do not let the world forget what is happening. Whether or not the media is reporting on the crisis, millions of women and girls are being stripped of their human rights and being denied their right to education. Thank you for reading and learning alongside me!


 

Glossary


  • Burka: a garment worn by some Muslim women that entirely covers the face and body.

  • Gender Apartheid: the segregation of the genders, male and female, instituted in public life through laws. 

  • The Taliban: a fundamentalist militia organization that rules parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, enforcing extremist policies that relegate women and girls to the home.

  • White saviorism: an approach to humanitarian or human rights issues that positions white people as benevolent, superior saviors who swoop in to rescue people of color and other marginalized groups from oppression.

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