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Picture Yourself in Her Place:

The Plight of the Afghan Woman


by Betty Soldz

Can you picture yourself in the following scenario: You are forced to wear a garment that completely shrouds your body with only a small mesh opening through which to see. You can not leave your home unless accompanied by a male relative. You must paint the windows of your dwelling to hide yourself from view.

Of course you can't, that is if you live in the United States. It is almost too incredible to believe. You are free to dress as you please, free to travel where you please and you have the right to control your own body. The women of Afghanistan however, are as near to slavery as we can imagine. They can not be employed, they are forbidden to attend school, they are forced to wear the Burqa; they can not even wear white socks and their shoes may not make noise when they walk. If they break the Taliban's rules, such as not wearing a Burqa to completely cover their body, they will be beaten. Women have been fired at for leaving their homes to receive medical attention; if they are caught stealing, even if it is to feed their starving children, their hands will be amputated.

In June of 1997, Amnesty International warned that "women in Afghanistan were being denied the most basic and fundamental human rights, including the right to freedom of association, freedom of expression and employment." Before the Taliban came to power in 1996, women played a prominent role in the health professions, government and teaching. In fact, prior to that time, 60% of the professors at Kabul University, 70% of school teachers, 50% of civilian government workers and 40% of doctors were women as were the majority of healthcare workers.

Women who once worked and contributed to the support of their families have become destitute. According to Zohra Rahsekh, a Physicans for Human Rights researcher in an interview on Voice of America (Aug.28,1998), as many as 40,000 widows in Kabul have put on their Burqas to go beg on the streets of Kabul in order to feed their children.

Lastly, but of great importance, women and girls are prohibited from being examined by male physicians while at the same time, female doctors and nurses are prohibited from working. They have thus been precluded from medical care. Women and children die of curable ailments due to lack of treatment.

Many women and children are fleeing the country. Seventy-five percent of all Afghan refugees are women and children. Conditions for refugees are not much better than in Afghanistan. The conditions in which these refugees fight for survival are horrific: there is little food while many families have no more than plastic sheets for shelter and with little sanitation.

The women and men of the US can do their part to ensure that when the war in Afghanistan is over, any new government that may be formed will recognize the basic human rights of women. Farahnaz Nazir, the founder of the Afghan Women's Association, warns that there is little difference between the rules for women under the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.

The United States must proceed with caution to be sure that all segments of the new society are protected. Contact congress and let your representatives and senators know that the repression of Afghan women must not be allowed under any new ruling alliance that we support.

Women must be allowed to return to work and school and must be represented in a possible new government. They must no longer be subjugated. Freedom for the Afghan people must mean "all the people."



Editor's Note:

Text of Laura Bush's White House November 17th radio address about The Taliban's War Against Women and Children

For three in-depth reports on the status and plight of women and girls under Taliaban rule,

(1) Read and view the video available at CNN: Under the Veil

(2) The Feminist Majority's has maintained a long running campaign to help Afghan women and girls: Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan.

(3) In 1995, Amnesty International published a report about the status of women in Afghanistan: Women in Afghanistan— A human rights catastrophe



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