The futures of millions of Afghan women have been stolen by repressive Taliban policies, the former head of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission has said. In the year since the extremist group took over Afghanistan, it has imposed movement restrictions, draconian dress codes and effective education bans on women and girls. Shaharzad Akbar fled Kabul on the day the group took over and now lives in London with her husband and two children. ‘Girls want answers and they want some certainty, and it’s very hard to offer any of that,’ she says. Ms Akbar stepped down from her role at the commission in January, deciding she could not do her job properly under the Taliban regime.
An example of Afghan tenacity
Ms Akbar was a trailblazer for women’s empowerment and success in her home country. She and her family lived in Kabul until the 1990s, when war and unrest caused by the collapse of Mohammad Najibullah’s communist government and the first Taliban takeover drove them out. When they returned to Kabul from Pakistan after the Taliban’s fall in 2002, Ms Akbar enrolled at Kabul University and later at Smith College in the United States.
In 2019, Ms Akbar was appointed as the chairwoman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. Her crowning achievement was a campaign called ‘Put the Gun Down’, which reached out to victims of years of violence to amplify their voices. It also worked on entrenching the concepts of human rights, freedom of expression and women’s empowerment in Afghan society.
Trapped in a cage
Afghan women and girls say they feel that they are trapped in a cage of four walls, the walls of the house. There’s a real sense of attack on their dignity, there are real concerns about their deteriorating mental health. The hardline rulers have banned girls from joining secondary schools in almost all provinces.
Secret schools are a sign of Afghan women’s resistance. Some women and girls have started schools in their houses. But fathers and parents, in general, are terrified of the Taliban as there will be grave consequences for sending their daughters to such schools. I think it’s really important for everyone to realise that Taliban policies don’t represent Islam. They represent Taliban.
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