Soon after her 12th birthday, Ameneh-not her real name-was forced to be engaged to her adult, bearded cousin and moved into her uncle’s house, who was a trader with the Taliban merchant.
That was twenty years ago. At the time, the Islamic movement was at the peak of its power, controlling Afghanistan through fear and intimidation, while enforcing strict religious rules, which meant that women rarely ventured out—if they did, they had to wrap up a burqa from head to toe. And accompanied by male relatives. Young girls like Ameneh are prohibited from attending ordinary schools and are forced to enter arranged marriages.
But after the invasion of Afghanistan led by the United States in 2001, the teenager discovered an unimaginable freedom. Encouraged by the loss of power by the Taliban, she fled from her uncle’s house, who became the head of the family after her father died many years ago and took off her burqa. With the support of her mother, she went to the civil court and cancelled her engagement. She goes to school, works in business and human rights, chooses to stay single and enjoy an active social life.
Today, Ameneh said that her childhood nightmare is back, and now Taliban troops across the country have been back in power after a week of blitzkrieg.
“Together with my sister and mother, we took all the documents, left home, and hid in a friend’s house. We were worried that the first person to appear at our door was our uncle,” Amene told the Financial Times “, asked not to use her real name.
“I threw away my burqa 20 years ago. I will never accept this humiliation again, and I cannot be forced to marry anyone,” she added tearfully on the phone.
What women like Ameneh and her worry about is that after the withdrawal of the United States and the massive collapse of the Afghan government, the civil liberties they enjoyed over the past two decades will be quickly reversed and their lives will fall back into darkness.
The Taliban, who occupied Kabul on Sunday after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, insisted that the movement would not impose the same severe restrictions and Islamic codes they imposed in the 1990s. So far, they have refused to restrict Afghans from using the Internet, and women can still go out without a male guardian.
But female activists believe that they will soon see their political, educational, and social rights that enable them to become members of Congress, drive cars, and participate in sporting events regress.
Some TV shows, including Turkish and Indian soap operas, have been replaced by Islamic shows, and business owners have taken pictures of women from beauty salons, tailor shops and plastic surgery centers for fear of being punished by Taliban fighters.
Ghouryan, a Telegram channel close to the Taliban, quoted a member of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” to tell academics in Kabul, “Our sisters can continue their administrative and educational activities… Don’t listen to unfounded news.”
However, the Herat Times, an anti-Taliban news channel on Telegram, quoted a Taliban spokesperson as saying that “it is difficult for women to exist in government-owned offices”. It added that it is possible that “women can only appear in the health and teaching sectors.”
Many women are already adjusting their lives, looking forward to everything to come.
A university professor in Herat said on the phone that two days after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan’s third-largest city on Saturday, she chose a dark robe, a conservative style that covers her head and hangs under a woman’s feet. robe. , work. She recalled that the previous week, she wore a brightly colored cloak with a scarf covering her head loosely and a light makeup on her face.
“When the Taliban were in the university, the ordinary security guard at the entrance told me,’Women cannot enter for the time being’,” she said. “I was also told that the message from the Taliban is that they will not deduct my salary because of my absence, but will decide later whether women can enter the university.”
Female scholars hope that the burqa will become mandatory again, and worry that if women are allowed to continue to play a role in education, universities will implement gender segregation. They are also worried that elements of school curricula will be cut or cancelled, such as English, mathematics and physics, and replaced by more Islamic curricula.
The literacy rate in Afghanistan is 43%, higher than 31.4% in 2011, but it is still one of the countries with the lowest literacy rate in the world. According to data from the World Bank, the gender gap is still very large, with a male literacy rate of 55% and a female literacy rate of 30%.
In Kabul, another university professor stated that she and her colleagues are “in a state of great uncertainty and there are serious safety issues.” “We don’t know what will happen,” she said.
If the Taliban think their way of life is blasphemous, they will worry about their safety, so some women are considering fleeing their homes. Maryam Durani is a journalist and rights activist in Kandahar, where she helps promote girls’ education. She said she received threatening messages this month, warning her that her life would be threatened if she continued her activities. Just before the southern city fell into the Taliban, she fled to Kabul.
“Our safety is not guaranteed,” she said. “We may have time to find a way out [of Afghanistan]. “
Everyone who spoke to the Financial Times doubted that the Taliban today will be different from the movement 20 years ago.
“What we have seen these days tells us that the Taliban’s ideology and policies have not changed, but they have learned how to disguise and fool the world,” said a female surgeon in the western town of Herat.
She was only two years old when her house was destroyed by rockets during the civil war in the 1980s. Her family fled to neighboring Iran, but moved back home after the American invasion in 2001 gave their homeland a promise of a better life. Now she accuses the United States and its allies of abandoning her country.
“I have studied for 25 years, but now I am ruled by uneducated people,” she said. “If I am allowed to go to work, I am sure I will have to wear a burqa. I can’t stand it anymore. The world and the United States have betrayed us.”