Afghanistan’s women fear the worst as Taliban advance sows alarm and terror

Taliban militants are expected to capture significant territory in Afghanistan, threatening the rights of young women and their families. (AFP)
1 / 2
Taliban militants are expected to capture significant territory in Afghanistan, threatening the rights of young women and their families. (AFP)
A woman works in rural Afghanistan, where some women are indifferent to the prospect of a Taliban takeover, prioritizing peace over freedom. (AFP)
2 / 2
A woman works in rural Afghanistan, where some women are indifferent to the prospect of a Taliban takeover, prioritizing peace over freedom. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 02 August 2021

Afghanistan’s women fear the worst as Taliban advance sows alarm and terror

Afghanistan’s women fear the worst as Taliban advance sows alarm and terror
  • Since 2001 women have held key positions in institutions, run for the presidency and served as ambassadors
  • Educated women fearful of losing their freedoms and rights as ultraconservative Pashtun group eyes power

KABUL: With US-led forces set to leave Afghanistan by the end of August, the Taliban making rapid territorial gains, and uncertainty over the state of peace talks between the insurgent group and the government in Kabul, a critical question hangs over the fate of Afghan women’s liberties and hard-won rights.

After years of subordination, Afghan women came to enjoy unprecedented freedoms in the years after 2001 when US-led forces toppled the Taliban regime, which had imposed harsh curbs on civil liberties, barring women from education and most occupations outside the home.

In the absence of the Taliban, Afghan women have held key positions in various state institutions, have run for the presidency, and have served as lawmakers, ministers and ambassadors. Governing parties have not opposed such basic principles of democracy as gender equality and free expression.

 

 

The imminent departure of the last remaining foreign troops, therefore, is a source of considerable anxiety and tension for the middle class and educated women in Afghanistan’s urban areas, who fear that a return to power by the Taliban would deprive them of the freedoms they currently enjoy.

“Everyone now is afraid. We are all worried about what will happen,” Nargis, 23, manager of the newly opened Aryana fashion store in Kabul, told Arab News.




Nargis left her journalism to work in retail due to the increase in recent targeted attacks on media professionals. (Sayed Salahuddin/Arab News)

“People have witnessed one dark Taliban era. If they come again, certainly they will not allow women to work, and I will not be where I am today.”

Nargis has a degree in journalism, but due to a surge in targeted attacks on media workers in recent years, she decided she could not risk continuing in the profession.

As in any war-torn society, women suffer disproportionately in Afghanistan, which has frequently been ranked the worst place in the world to be a woman. Several female journalists, women’s rights activists, and women serving in the Afghan security forces have been murdered, either by suspected militants or by relatives in so-called honor killings.

Some Afghans who had hoped the Taliban would liberalize their more draconian policies following talks with the US and the Afghan government have been left disappointed by the restrictions the group has imposed in areas it has seized from Afghan forces since the start of the foreign drawdown.

They say the Taliban has ordered women to not venture outdoors without a male family member, to wear the all-enveloping burqa, and have barred men from shaving their beards, reminiscent of the group’s policies when it ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.

“You see in the areas the Taliban is controlling they have imposed forced marriages, sexual slavery, and child marriages are rising,” Shukria Barakzai, a prominent women’s rights activist who served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Norway, told Arab News.




Afghanis said the Taliban are forcing women to wear a burqa whenever they are outside. (File/AFP)

“They are taking young widows and young girls hostage. This is against the culture of Afghanistan, religion, and all rules of war. War crimes are happening now against the people of Afghanistan and especially against the women of this society.”

Taliban officials have rejected the charges, insisted that they have issued no such orders, and accused critics of trying to tarnish the group’s image.

While women in urban areas oppose constitutional and social changes that would significantly limit their rights obtained during the past two decades, some women, at least in rural areas, are indifferent to the prospect of a Taliban takeover.

These women do not feel connected to women of the urban elite, and would rather speak for themselves. Many of these rural, and even some urban, women consider peace as their main priority, even if it means sacrificing some rights that they are currently unable to exercise in any case.




Women in Afghanistan have enjoyed considerable freedoms in the absence of Taliban after 2001. (Sayed Salahuddin/Arab News)

“The so-called Afghan leaders speak about women’s rights merely to draw the West’s attention to keep them in power and provide them money because we have not seen their sisters and women on TV or with them in public areas,” Nasira Ghafoori, a tailor from Ghazni province, told Arab News.

“Some of them even feel ashamed to mention their daughters, sisters, and wives by name in public. Such leaders and other women who misuse the slogans of women’s rights have no place here. We are only interested in peace and ending the war.”

Not all Afghan women are ready to surrender their freedoms in the interest of peace. Maryam Durrani, a women’s rights activist who runs a gym for women and several education centers in southern Kandahar, the former seat of Taliban power, says she has had to limit her activities and partly close the gym following threats on social media since the Taliban made new inroads into the province.

“They threatened me, saying ‘we will kill you because of your activities.’ Unfortunately, because of that, as a precautionary measure, we have shut down the club to protect the lives of our customers,” Durrani, winner of the International Women of Courage Award 2012, told Arab News.

FASTFACTS

Taliban banned girls from studying and stoned women to death for crimes such as adultery.

Afghanistan’s parliament today has 68 female lawmakers, accounting for about 30 percent of the lower house.

More Afghan women were killed or wounded in the first half of 2021 than in the first 6 months of any year since 2009.

“The issue is not that the Taliban is coming back. It depends on the Taliban’s mentality and ideology. If their ideology has changed, then we may have some of the freedoms that we have now, but if they come with their past ideology, then it is clear women will not have a good time.”

The rise of the Taliban in 1996 had disrupted a long and uneven journey to women’s emancipation through education and empowerment. In the 1920s, Queen Soraya played an active role in the country’s political and social development alongside her husband, King Amanullah Khan. A bold advocate for women’s rights, she introduced modern education for women, one that included sciences, history, and other subjects.

After some setbacks, women in the 1960s helped draft Afghanistan’s first comprehensive constitution, which was ratified in 1964. It recognized the equal rights of men and women as citizens and established democratic elections. In 1965, four women were elected to parliament and several others became government ministers.

Women’s status improved rapidly under Soviet-backed socialist regimes of the late 1970s and 1980s. Parliament strengthened girls’ education and outlawed practices opposed by women. By 1992, despite the political upheavals wracking the country, Afghan women were full participants in public life.




Women demonstrators march toward to the governor office during a peaceful protest to mark International Women's Day in Herat on March 8, 2021. (File/AFP)

With the withdrawal of Western forces, not only is the fate of Afghanistan’s democratic institutions in peril but also the human rights of its women, going by reports streaming in from beleaguered districts.

Asila Ahmadzai, a senior journalist with Afghan news agency Farhat, says educated women in civil society, in the media, in rights groups, and involved in entrepreneurial pursuits have fled their homes in the northern and northeastern provinces that have fallen to the Taliban.

“The situation for women in Afghanistan now is very worrying because the Taliban is gaining ground. Due to the fear of the Taliban, educated women have moved to Kabul from the rural areas,” she told Arab News.

“No female activist, member of civil society, journalist or trader wants to live in Taliban-held areas because the Taliban do not allow them to work. The Taliban only allows girls to go to school up to the age of seven — not beyond that age. If the Taliban takes cities, educated women will then leave the country for good because they cannot afford to live under the group’s restrictions.”

Women such as Barakzai fear that the withdrawal of foreign troops, coupled with the failure to obtain guarantees from the Taliban that they would honor women’s rights as enshrined under the constitution, means that the situation for women and girls will be far worse if the group retakes power.




Taliban militants are expected to capture significant territory in Afghanistan, threatening the rights of young women and their families. (File/AFP)

Some have pinned hopes on the US-sponsored talks between Kabul and the Taliban and believe there will be pressure on the Taliban from outside to reform some of its views, especially from Washington, which has repeatedly reiterated the need to protect the gains made since the Taliban’s removal.

“In this era, there is no place for attempts to limit girls’ access to school or women’s rights in society, the workplace or governance,” Ross Wilson, the US chargé d’affaires to Kabul, tweeted last week in response to worrying reports from areas conquered by the Taliban.

“To the Taliban — welcome to 2021. Women and men have equal rights … halt your efforts to undermine the gains of the past 20 years. Join the 21st century.”

Critics, however, argue that the US has very little leverage over the Taliban’s attitudes and policies since it has failed to compel the Taliban to halt its attacks, which was a key component of the deal it struck with the group in exchange for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

“Whether government negotiators can force the Taliban not to weaken women’s rights and the opportunities of middle and upper-class urban women will largely depend on what happens in the war between the Taliban and the government,” Taj Mohammad, a Kabul-based analyst, told Arab News.

“Long gone are the days when US leaders justified the war and the invasion partly due to human and women’s rights issues.”

_____________________

Twitter: @sayedsalahuddin


Rome to host 1st International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia

Rome to host 1st International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia
Updated 24 September 2021

Rome to host 1st International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia

Rome to host 1st International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia
  • Event, co-funded by European Commission, seeks ‘more inclusive’ society, organizers tell briefing attended by Arab News
  • 65% of Italian Muslims say they have suffered violence, prejudice or discrimination: Study

ROME: The first International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia will be held this weekend in Rome.

The online forum, organized as part of the Youth Empowerment Support project, aims to raise awareness about Islamophobia so as to effectively combat it.

“Free to believe, free to think, free to be” is the title of the event, which is co-funded by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Program of the European Commission.

The forum “aims to be a space and an opportunity for young people to discuss and think concretely about how to build a more inclusive and diverse society, free from stereotypes and discrimination, through debates, workshops and exchanges of experiences,” the organizers said at a press conference attended by Arab News.

The goal, they added, is “to create new connections between communities in Europe and to transfer knowledge” so as to help young Italians and Europeans — Muslim and non-Muslim alike — provide information and guidance on the rights of religious minorities.

At the end of the forum, a youth manifesto against Islamophobia will be approved. The event will include panels of experts with representatives from Muslim organizations, civil society, and Italian and European institutions.

Triantafillos Loukarelis, director of the European Network Against Racism, said Muslim females, “particularly if they wear religious symbols, are victims of multiple discrimination — based on gender, religion and origin — which results in verbal aggression in public, hate speech on social media and social exclusion, with difficulties in accessing the labor market and training courses.”

Islam is the second-largest religion in Italy with about 2.5 million faithful, over 1 million of them with Italian citizenship.

According to a study published recently by ENAR, 65 percent of Italian Muslims say they have suffered violence, prejudice or discrimination.


Spanish volcano remains volatile 5 days after eruption

Spanish volcano remains volatile 5 days after eruption
Updated 24 September 2021

Spanish volcano remains volatile 5 days after eruption

Spanish volcano remains volatile 5 days after eruption
  • The lava has destroyed almost 400 buildings on La Palma
  • The Spanish government will provide aid for rebuilding homes and public infrastructure

TODOQUE, Canary Islands: A volcano in Spain’s Canary Islands continued to produce explosions and spew out lava Friday, five days after it erupted, authorities said.
The lava has destroyed almost 400 buildings on La Palma, including many homes, on the western side of the island of 85,000 people, a European Union monitoring program said.
It said the lava stretches over 180 hectares (almost 20,000 square feet) and has blocked 14 kilometers (9 miles) of roads. Islanders make a living mostly from farming and tourism, and some may lose their livelihoods.
The government of La Palma Island said officials had recorded 1,130 quakes in the area over the past week as the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge shook with blasts of molten lava.
On a visit to La Palma, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a package of measures to help get the island back on its feet and “rebuild lives.”
The Spanish government will provide aid for rebuilding homes and public infrastructure, such as roads, irrigation networks and schools, as well as relaunching the island’s tourism industry, Sánchez said. He did not say how much money would be made available, but said a Cabinet meeting next week would provide more details.
The blasts are sending ash up to 4500 meters (almost 15,000 feet) into the air, the Guardia Civil police force said in a tweet. Local authorities advised people to protect themselves from the ash with face masks.
Two rivers of lava continued to slide slowly down the hillside, with experts doubting whether they would cover the remaining 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) to the sea due to their slowing progress.
One of the lava flows has almost ground to a halt and a second one is moving at between 4 and 5 meters an hour, the Guardia Civil said.
Both are at least 10 meters (33 feet) high at their leading edge and are destroying houses, farmland and infrastructure in their path.
Scientists say the lava flows could last for weeks or months.
Authorities haven’t reported any casualties from the eruption. Scientists had been monitoring the volcanic activity and had warned of a possible eruption, allowing almost 7,000 people to be evacuated in time.


Drug addiction infiltrates Arab-American community

Drug addiction infiltrates Arab-American community
Updated 24 September 2021

Drug addiction infiltrates Arab-American community

Drug addiction infiltrates Arab-American community
  • Imam tells Arab News of ‘catastrophic consequences on youth’
  • Drug use in US up 61% between 2016 and 2020, with 93,000 overdose deaths last year

DEARBORN: Despite an abundance of studies and preventive efforts, drug addiction is growing more than ever in the US, including at alarming rates in the Arab-American community, leaders in Greater Detroit have told Arab News.
There were more than 70,000 overdose deaths in 2019 and 93,000 last year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Today, drug abuse among youth in particular is a high public-health concern as at least one in eight teenagers, some as young as 13, use an illicit substance. Drug use increased 61 percent between 2016 and 2020.

Half of teenagers have misused a drug at least once, and it is estimated that 43 percent of college students use illicit drugs.
 “The issue of drugs and its catastrophic consequences on the youth of the Arab-American community has become apparent to any sane person,” Imam Mardini, the imam of the American Islamic Center in the city of Dearborn, told Arab News.
 “Everyone is at risk. We’ve had cases from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and some were even from wealthy conservative families.”
 Adel Mozip, a Dearborn school board trustee, told Arab News: “Drug abuse is alive in the Detroit community, where youth lose their lives consistently due to overdoses and addiction, and Arab and Muslim students are impacted greatly.”
 Dr. Omar Reda — a board-certified psychiatrist, Harvard-trained trauma expert, author and family advocate — advised parents: “You can detect the symptoms of drug use by monitoring certain changes in children such as language, behavior, weight loss, sleep disturbance, tendency to be secretive, skin marks, or even leaving home. Some other dangerous symptoms might include delusions, hallucinations, violence, or expressing suicidal thoughts.”
 He said the main social and behavioral reasons for youth drug addiction in Arab communities are isolation — which has become worse since the coronavirus pandemic — marginalization, despair, poor family and social support, and stigma because of cultural and religious taboos.
Takween Katrous, mental wellness coordinator at the American Islamic Center, told Arab News: “Many young adults in the Arab community have self-esteem issues and can be affected by peer pressure because they’re eager to fit in, and can easily succumb to societal pressures.” 
She said there is a clear lack of emotional support from immigrant parents, including from Arab and Muslim communities, due to generational differences that lead to misunderstanding and conflict within families.
Mozip said part of the problem is related to the easy accessibility of drugs. As such, doctors and pharmacists should “stop writing prescriptions that lead to addiction, and in addition they must closely monitor their patients.”
Experts said another important factor is the stigma surrounding mental health in the Arab community, as parents prefer to hide family problems than deal with them because of perceived shame.

In this context, Mardini advises parents to pinpoint the problem and confront it courageously at an early stage. Mozip said: “Please don’t be ashamed of treating your child.”  
As for the role of the community in confronting this issue, Katrous said: “It should offer youth more recreational programs in order to make sure they’re preoccupied with activities that benefit them emotionally, physically and academically.” 
Until authorities find effective solutions to the problem, and Arab and Muslim communities acknowledge and take it more seriously, drug addiction will worsen, Arab community leaders warn.

They say local communities, religious institutions and families must work together with openness, sincerity and solidarity to save their children. 


British police arrest man over killing of London teacher

British police arrest man over killing of London teacher
Updated 24 September 2021

British police arrest man over killing of London teacher

British police arrest man over killing of London teacher
  • Nessa, 28, was found dead in Kidbrooke, southeast London on Sept. 17
  • London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Thursday described the violence against women as a national “epidemic”

LONDON: Police have arrested a 38-year-old man on suspicion of killing Sabina Nessa, a primary school teacher found dead in a London park.
Nessa’s killing — as she walked to meet a friend a few minutes from her south London home — has renewed concerns that women are not safe on the city’s streets. A vigil is due to be held in Nessa’s memory on Friday.
Nessa, 28, was found dead in Kidbrooke, southeast London on Sept. 17. Detectives believe she was attacked during what would have been a five-minute walk through a local park to meet a friend at a pub. Her body was found by a member of the public the next day. Results from a post-mortem examination carried out on Monday were inconclusive.
Late Thursday police said they had arrested a man in a nearby area of London on suspicion of murder. He has not been charged, and his name was not released.
Police also released images of another man they want to speak to as part of the investigation.
Nessa’s death came months after the murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who was abducted and killed as she walked home in south London in March. An off-duty police officer has admitted raping and killing her.
Everard’s slaying shocked the country and saw thousands take to the streets to denounce violence against women.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Thursday described the violence against women as a national “epidemic.” He said more than 180 women have been killed by men across England from March 2020.


Catalan separatist leader Puigdemont arrested in Italy

Catalan separatist leader Puigdemont arrested in Italy
Updated 24 September 2021

Catalan separatist leader Puigdemont arrested in Italy

Catalan separatist leader Puigdemont arrested in Italy
  • Carles Puigdemont is wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition over his attempts to have the Catalan region break away from Madrid through the 2017 referendum

MADRID: Exiled former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was arrested in Italy on Thursday, his lawyer and an aide said, four years after fleeing following an independence referendum that Madrid ruled unconstitutional.
The European MEP was expected to appear in court on Friday at a hearing that could see him extradited to Spain to face sedition charges.
The Catalan leader — who has been based in Belgium since the 2017 referendum — was detained in Alghero, Sardinia, his chief of staff, Josep Lluis Alay, wrote on Twitter.
“At his arrival at Alghero airport, he was arrested by Italian police. Tomorrow (Friday), he’ll appear before the judges of the court of appeal of Sassari, who will decide whether to let him go or extradite him,” Alay said.
Puigdemont’s lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, tweeted that the exiled separatist leader was arrested on his arrival in Italy, where he was traveling in his capacity as an MEP.
He said the arrest was made on the basis of a warrant issued in October 2019 that had since been suspended.
Puigdemont, 58, is wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition over his attempts to have the Catalan region break away from Madrid through the 2017 referendum.
His arrest comes a week after the left-leaning Spanish government and regional Catalan authorities resumed negotiations to find a solution to Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.
In March, the European Parliament rescinded immunity for Puigdemont and two other pro-independent MEPs, a decision that was upheld in July by the EU’s General Court.
However, the European Parliament’s decision is under appeal and a final ruling by the EU court has yet to be made.
Following Thursday’s arrest, Madrid expressed “its respect for the decisions of the Italian authorities and courts.”
“The arrest of Mr.Puigdemont corresponds to an ongoing judicial procedure that applies to any EU citizen who has to answer to the courts,” the Spanish government said in a statement.
The statement added Puigdemont should “submit to the action of justice like any other citizen.”
New Catalan president Pere Aragones — a separatist but more moderate than his predecessor — condemned what he called the “persecution” of Puigdemont.
“In the face of persecution and judicial repression, the strongest condemnation. It has to stop,” he wrote on Twitter.
He added that “self-determination” was the “only solution.”
Besides Puigdemont, former Catalan regional ministers Toni Comin and Clara Ponsati are also wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition.
The October 2017 referendum was held by Catalonia’s separatist regional leadership despite a ban by Madrid and the process was marred by police violence.
A few weeks later, the leadership made a short-lived declaration of independence, prompting Puigdemont to flee abroad.
Others who stayed in Spain were arrested and tried.
However, Puigdemont did not benefit from the pardon granted in June to nine pro-independence activists who had been imprisoned in Spain.