Have things changed for women in Afghanistan since the Taliban
August 11, 2007
The Taliban believe that "the face of a woman is a source of corruption for men who are not related to them."
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Taliban can bite me.
How are things different now for women in Afghanistan than under the Taliban? I'll do a comparison with an excerpt from the wikipedia entry regarding the Taliban's gender policies, to
illustrate (and please note these are just my own observations; maybe someone else here would feel differently):
Various forms of the hijab have always been the norm in Afghanistan, but NOT the burka. More and more Afghan women prefer to use a massive scarf to cover their head and bodies, leaving their faces visible. Iranian and Arab styles of the hijab are also growing in popularity (black long-sleeve dresses with hoods, made of very light fabric and also leaving the face exposed). I wouldn't mind having one of those myself, actually, for my travels in Muslim countries. And, you know, black is so slimming...
- "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."
This has changed somewhat. Women can talk directly to male shop-keepers and co-workers, but any that I've seen do have either been wearing a burka or were with other women, or even their kids. Many families do still require women to have a "mahram" (male relative escort) to travel, but not to go out with their friends for shopping. Girls go to school and even university - but still not the majority, by far. How much freedom a woman has in interacting with men that are not a part of her immediate family depends entirely on her family.
- "Women should not appear in the streets without a blood relative and unless wearing a burka."
There are still many women, most of them married, who wear a burka when out on the street, but they are usually with one of their children or another woman, rather than a mahram. There are also many, many women in Kabul who wear just a headscarf and don't have a mahram while they shop, go to school, go to work, etc.
- "Women should not wear high heeled shoes as no man should hear awoman's footsteps lest it excite him."
Wow, this has REALLY changed. At work, we joke about the shoes women wear under a burka - high heels and platform shoes are particularly popular. Thursday evenings, we do the burka shoe watch - that's when a lot of women do their shopping, and their shoes are *incredible*.
- "Women must not speak loudly in public as no stranger should hear a woman's voice."
This is still very true. Needless to say, I would have been killed by the Taliban in the first 24 hours of their regime.
- All ground and first floor residential windows should be painted over or screened to prevent women being visible from the street.
This is still true for most places where you can see windows from the street. But as so many residences are now surrounded by very high walls, I have no idea.
- Women were forbidden to appear on the balconies of their apartments or houses.
This is still largely true. They aren't forbidden by the Taliban, however; they are forbidden by their families, who are mortified at potential gossip from neighbors.
- The photographing or filming of women was banned as was displaying pictures of females in newspapers, books, shops or the home.
This is still a VERY touchy subject. I see shops, mini-vans and motorbikes sporting photos of their favorite Bollywood star, but aid agencies frequently get criticized for showing women or even little girls in publications. I am noticing more and more little girls on billboards selling some grocery item, but still no women.
- The modification of any place names that included the word "women."
For example, "women's garden" was renamed "spring garden".
It's back to the women's garden now. And I see things like "women's clinic" and "girl's high school."
- Ban on women's presence on radio, television or at public gatherings of any kind.
This has changed, big time.
- In October 1996 a woman had the tip of her thumb cut off for wearing nail varnish. In June 2007, an American woman was berated by one of her Afghan female co-workers for not getting her nails done while she was home in Germany.
Seriously, nail care is the norm here in Kabul. Afghan women looooove to have lovely nails.
- Ban on women riding bicycles or motorcycles, even with their mahrams.
There's no ban on such, but there are cultural restrictions. I see women riding on the back of motorcycles and bikes in burkas, and some
women are even straddling the seat rather than riding side saddle! But other than a very adventurous German woman, I've never seen a woman driving a motorcycle here. I have seen one American woman riding a bicycle (just in the neighborhood where she lives) and I hear that Afghan girls in the far Northern provinces ride bikes, no problem.
Bicycles are going to be key for Kabul not becoming a disgusting smog ridden traffic packed mess. Much more needs to be done to support and accommodate bicyclists.
- Women were forbidden from riding in a taxi without a mahram.
I've never seen a woman riding in a taxi alone, but I have seen a group of women in a taxi, and the only guy was the taxi driver.
- Segregated bus services introduced to prevent males and females traveling on the same bus.
Women and men ride on the same buses now, but women and children all ride in one part and men all ride in the other. That may mean three women crammed into the shotgun seat in a mini-van and the rest of the van full of men.
In our own UN shuttles, we try to not have men and women sitting
together in the same seat. Often, that means I'm sitting in the front
and all the men are in the back seat. Once, a group of us (back when
we were all speaking to one another) took a large SUV to lunch, and
agreed that, on the way to the restaurant, all of the men would sit in
the front two seats and the women would be cramped in the back seat,
but on the way back, we'd change. We laughed hysterically on the way back at the looks of the Afghan men who saw us as we passed by, the women all sitting comfortably while the men were all crammed together. Some of the passersby laughed, others looked stunned and confused.
- Brightly colored clothes were also banned.
This is changing more and more every day - I've seen women in very modest but very RED outfits. You go, girls. Colorful shalwar kameezes from Pakistan are very popular in my office (and I got quite fussed over by the girls for mine from Delhi).
Not only is the burka demeaning, it's dangerous: navigating the perilous streets of Kabul, even with a mahram (who walks about two meters in front of a woman) can be hazardous to your health, because the burka severely impedes your vision and hearing.
The Taliban's treatment of women was, to be blunt, a war on women. If you have never read the Wikipedia entry on this, you really should.
Anyone read "The Handmaid's Tale" lately?
If you have read this blawg, PLEASE let me know.
Comments are welcomed, and motivate me o keep writing --
without comments, I start o think I'm talking o cyberair.
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