Women's Lives Under the Taliban
A background report on the condition of women in Afghanistan since 1996.
Editor's Note: This piece provides background information on women's lives under Taliban rule in Afghanistan from 1996 until the disintegration of the Taliban's power during November 2001. As the Taliban loses control, the restrictions on women are somewhat eased, but not quickly enough to stop thousands, possibly millions, from starving. We will keep you updated as the situation evolves. – November 2001
By Cindy Hanford, Staff Writer
Before the Taliban's takeover, Afghan women were:
Women were prohibited from being seen or heard. The windows of their homes were painted, and they could not appear in public unless wearing the full-body covering, the burqa. Women were beaten for showing a bit of ankle or wearing noisy shoes. They could not speak in public or to men who were not relatives. They were beaten, even killed, for minor violations of these rules.
Women accused of prostitution or infidelity were hung in public squares or stoned to death, and persons accused of homosexuality were put in a pit near a wall, which was then toppled, burying them alive. Ironically, brothels proliferated under Taliban rule, employing educated women who had no other way to survive. The Taliban alternated between frequenting and raiding the brothels.
Throughout many years of civil war and ethnic conflicts in Afghanistan, both the Taliban and other factions of the mujahideen used rape as a weapon of war – a means of terrorizing women and dishonoring entire communities.
After more than two decades of war that killed hundreds of thousands of Afghan men, many Afghan women are the sole source of income for their families. With the Taliban's restrictions against work and travel, women and their families were forced further into dire poverty in a country ravaged by war and drought. The regime shut down women-run bakeries, a major source of food for the poor, demonstrating that the Taliban prized misogyny more than food -- even when people were dying of starvation.
Because most female doctors were excluded from the workforce, and male doctors were prohibited from treating women, most Afghan women had no access to medical care. This led to a large increase in infant and maternal mortality and deaths that could easily have been prevented with proper medication. A small number of female doctors were granted exceptions to work in a few female-only hospitals, but most eventually fled the country or could not travel to work because of the Taliban's restrictive code. Female surgeons found it impossible to operate properly from underneath the burqa, with its limited vision, and some patients fortunate enough to receive care at all died because their doctors could not see to operate. Male doctors who wanted to help were prohibited from doing so.
Not surprisingly, the rates of depression for women and teenage girls began to skyrocket under these oppressive conditions. Many women committed suicide. Others fled the country, braving the dangers and uncertainties of refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan. Some 75% of the estimated 7.5 million Afghan refugees are women and girls. The $320 million aid package authorized by the Bush administration in early October is insufficient to provide enough food, medical supplies or shelter, especially as winter quickly approaches.
For NOW's history of protesting and calling attention to the plight of women in Afghanistan, see the following articles:
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