A year ago, the Taliban regained power in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, amid the withdrawal of NATO troops. Since then, the situation of women in the country has deteriorated dramatically.
A few days ago, around 40 women demonstrated in front of the Afghan Ministry of Education. His demand: “Bread, work and freedom!” The Taliban’s reaction to the protest was violent. Armed fighters fired into the crowd, fleeing women were beaten with rifle butts, and journalists reporting from the scene were also beaten.
Journalist and ethnologist Shikiba Babori is not surprised. “Many men in Afghanistan have learned nothing but to use force of arms to achieve their goals, rather than convincing with arguments,” she told DW. “Women who raise their voices are intimidated, threatened and killed.”
But the West also used Afghan women as toys, says Babori. She addresses this in her book The afghan women: playing ball of politics (in free translation, “Afghan women: political plaything”), recently published.
For example, before invading Afghanistan in 2001, the US government claimed that it wanted to “liberate” Afghan women. American feminists applauded.
After the hasty retreat from Kabul in 2021, this “liberation” proved to be an empty promise, leaving Afghan women to fend for themselves. According to Babori, the same US feminists simply kept quiet about it.
“A Life Like Prison”
The German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is not silent. Under the Taliban regime, the plight of women and girls has become “unbearable”, the German said recently. According to her, girls and women lead “a life like in prison” as they are deprived of access to education and cannot move around freely without male relatives.
But what she calls the “bitter reality” is and has been quite normal for many Afghan women, even over the last 20 years, says Shikiba Babori. “In more than half of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, the plight of women has never changed.”
Since 2003, ethnologist Shikiba Babori regularly travels to Afghanistan — Photo: DW
Babori was born in Kabul and moved to Germany in the 1970s; she knows the country and its people well. In her book, the journalist gives an illuminating overview of the historical development of Afghanistan since the 1920s and repeatedly points out the discrepancy between urban and rural areas.
“When you look at the plight of Afghan women living outside the big cities, it’s clear how few women have really benefited from the few opportunities offered in the last 20 years.”
Is a new civil war approaching?
And even those who could benefit from the opportunities now feel abandoned by Western powers. The situation is reported by Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi, a journalist for DW, in his book the lionesses of Afghanistanpublished this Tuesday (16/08).
Women are disappointed that the promise of freedom made to them has not been fulfilled. But some are simply relieved that the war is over.
Hasrat-Nazimi believes that this calm will not last long: “I assume that things will get worse, that there will be more armed conflicts between the different factions of the Taliban, but also that ISIS [“Estado Islâmico”] will gain strength again.”
That’s why the biggest fear in Afghanistan is that the West will now lose all interest and look the other way, says Shikiba Babori – as in the past, with the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989. The Soviet occupation was followed by a war dying civilian in Afghanistan.
feminist foreign policy
Annalena Baerbock’s approach to a feminist foreign policy is a glimmer of hope, according to Babori. It emphasizes the responsibility of NATO countries to the Afghan population, especially in view of the country’s catastrophic humanitarian situation.
“Women cannot go out on the street, girls cannot go to school”, he summarizes. “People sell their organs to get money. Parents sell their children. Some just give them away so they have one less mouth at the table. The West can’t just talk about it on special dates.”
Both Babori and Hasrat-Nazimi place hope in Afghan women who want to find their own strength. “That was always the tone when I spoke to women in Afghanistan,” reports Hasrat-Nazimi. “They say: now it has to be different, now we have to do it ourselves.”
Her book enumerates the mistakes of Western foreign policy, but it also gives encouragement: She looks to activists who won’t give up the fight, and to inspiring pioneers of human and women’s rights in Afghanistan’s history.
Support for Afghan women
Forty courageous Afghan women continued this struggle at the demonstration in Kabul over the weekend. And they are not the only ones: Shikiba Babori recalls the case of a young woman who was supposed to recite a poem under the Taliban flag, but used the space to demand the opening of schools for girls. For Babori, these women must now be supported.
Her book analyzes the situation as accurately as it is ruthless, and the overview of the history of women’s rights in Afghanistan is as impressive as it is instructive. She does not shy away from pointing out mistakes or making clear demands of politicians. One is: women in Afghanistan must be heard and supported – not just on special dates, but throughout the year.