“The Taliban started going from house to house looking for women activists,” says well-known journalist and women’s rights advocate Humira Saqib, who at 41 clearly remembers the abuse committed by extremists against Afghan women during their dictatorship (1996 -2001). His denunciation contrasts with the reassurance messages issued by Taliban spokesmen. She doesn’t believe it. Like many other women, she chose to hide. “The activists are hiding here, we hide in the homes of friends and family and we can’t go out [na rua] because of the risk we take,” sums up Saqib in a quick exchange of messages.
It’s not paranoia. In mid-July, Islamists kidnapped Zahra Jalal, the Khost provincial representative on the Women’s Network in Urban Governance. Another activist, Maryam Durrani, escaped from Kandahar, where she promoted girls’ education, just before the city fell into the hands of Islamists. Since the beginning of the month, she had received several messages warning her that her life was in danger.
“The Taliban regularly harass and threaten women in the regions they control,” says Femena, a support network for feminists in the Middle East and Asia. The organization collected the signature of 1,200 Afghan and Iranian activists calling for civilian protection, as well as recognition of Afghan women as equal citizens with men. There is widespread fear among women (and youth) that the Taliban will end with the civil liberties they have enjoyed since 2001. The militia spokesmen send contradictory signals: they do not hide that their objective is to establish a regime governed by Islamic law (sharia), but they maintain the ambiguity about access to education and work for women .
“They say that we are going to work and study, that we will lead a normal life, but in Herat they don’t let women and girls go to universities,” says Saqib. In fact, several students have reported in recent days how they were prevented from entering university buildings. There are also testimonies from employees who were banned from entering their jobs. But so far the bearded people have not cut off the internet (when they ruled, they banned television and cinema) and they also did not impose the obligation that women can only go out in the street covered with a burqa and accompanied by a man of their family, as in era. Many, like Saqib, fear it will be a matter of days.
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Indeed, the fear that the rules will change is already prompting action. For now, some prefer not to take chances outside the home and if they do, they adopt a more conservative dress, avoiding the flashy colors. Others, like AI, fear they will have to abandon their passion for music and sports. But the atmosphere is starting to get cloudy: some television networks have replaced popular Indian and Turkish series with Islamic ones.
The Chair of the Independent Human Rights Commission, Shahrzad Akbar, recalled on Twitter that “officials, government employees, ex-military, journalists, women activists, human rights defenders, judges and prosecutors, people who worked with foreign forces, all have fear because despite being civilians, they were all targeted by the Taliban”. So he asked the militia, “now that your forces have taken Kabul, to take responsibility for people’s lives.”
Saqib, in turn, calls on other countries to “work to save the lives of activists, human rights defenders and journalists.” From his hiding place somewhere in Kabul, he also argues that “don’t waste 20 years of advancement and give people an international guarantee that their lives will be protected.”
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