Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Afghanistan: The Living Dead

November 1994. A notorious group of uneducated street boys emerged from refugee camps and religious schools near Pakistan to form the Taliban. Their goal: to restore Afghanistan to its purest state. But these thugs and their leader, Muhammad Omar, imposed laws that would inevitably oppress women under Taliban rule.

Until recently, before the Taliban came to power, Saudi Arabia was known as one of the most restrictive countries in the world, particularly for women. The head of the Taliban governing council states, "We have long regarded the Saudi Kingdom as our right hand." According to Jan Goodwin, editor of On the Issues, the Taliban controls between 65 and 85 percent of Afghanistan. That number could be higher.

With curfews in some parts of the region beginning at 7:30 p.m., it is difficult for women to do anything, considering the barbaric and sometimes even deadly punishements that could follow. Ever since the Taliban was able to gain control of Afghanistan, daily activities such as movies, music, wedding parties, picnics, celebrations and unisex gatherings are illegal. Women are no longer allowed to pursue education or employment opportunities, and they are even banned from going to male physicians for medical emergencies. It is also illegal for women under the Taliban to wear any kind of makeup, jewelry, nail polish, or to tweeze eyebrows, to trim hair, to be seen in sheer stockings, or to wear clothing that displays style or bright colors. Shoes that make too much "noise" while walking the streets and talking loudly or laughing in public are also forbidden. Women must also be fully covered by a burqa veil, which costs a "whopping" $9. The burqa is usually a difficult item for Afghan women to obtain due to their financial status. In Afghanistan, $9 is comparable to five month's pay. Since women are not employed and many of their husbands are deceased, they must often share a veil. It can take days or even weeks for a veil to be available for the mere duty of grocery shopping or going to the doctor. And when a veil finally becomes available, these women risk their lives. Women wearing the burqa often are run over by cars on the streets because the burqa has thick gauze that covers the entire eye area, diminishing peripheral vision.

On Feb. 27, 1998, some 30,000 men and boys gathered in the ruins of an Olympic sports stadium in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. According to the website, the crowd waited with biscuits and tea, not to watch a soccer match or a baseball game, but to cheer a scheduled flogging. A young woman named Sohalia was to recieve 100 lashes as punishment for adultery. Her crime? She was seen in the streets with a man who was not a relative. Sohalia is lucky; had she been married she would have been stoned to death. Sohalia is not alone. It's not uncommon for hundreds of Afghan women under the Taliban that have been rounded up and lashed for not following the strict dress code. One young girl's thumb was amputated for wearing nail polish. These inhumane conditions and treatment are driving the women under the Taliban to suicide. "Doctors are seeing a lot of esophageal burns. Women are swallowing battery acid, or poisonous househole cleaners, because they are easy to find. But it's a very painful way to die," states one observer. Suicide is nto uncommon in a place where women are transported in special buses with the windows covered in black thick blankets. Even the windows of residences are painted black.

The atrocities are unfathomable to you and me. To the rest of the world, women's status in Afghanistan seems intolerable and outrageous, but to the men ruling this government, it does not. The Minister of Foreign Affairs says, "Time should be spent serving the country and praying to God. Nothing else. Everything else is a waste of time, and people are not allowed to waste their time." And as to the freedom of these women, Adbul Hakeem Mujahid stated that his government is "protecting human rights" and also stated that they had, "restored women's safety, dignity and freedom." Safety? Dignity? Freedom?

The Taliban has imprisoned these women in their homes. The Minister of Education repordedly says women in their country are merely objects. He said, "It's like having a flower or a rose. You water it and keep it at home for yourself, to look at it and smell it. It is not supposed to be taken out of the house to be smelled." Another leader agreed more bluntly: "There are only two place for Afghan women, in her husband's house and in the graveyard."

Oppressive laws and rules plague the country, yet the behavior of officials somehow goes unnoticed and is tolerated. In the article, "Afghan Women Under the Taliban," Mujahid fails to mention that he sends his own daughter to an Engligh-language school in Pakistan despite the Taliban's ban on education for young girls and women. The hypocrisy is quite common, especially among government officials. Jane Goodwin, an award winning journalist and human rights activist sat face to face with Mulla Qalamad Din, the head of the Department of Virtue and Vice years ago. She observed him chain smoking and noticed ashtrays in his office. "Isn't that illegal?" she asked. "I can't help it, I'm addicted," he replied with a smile.

How you can aid the women in Afghanistan: To help the women in Afghanistan restore their faith in themselves, visit