It took Women for Afghan Women years to build the largest network of women’s protection services in Afghanistan – 32 safe houses, family counseling centers and children’s homes in 14 provinces, growing by word of mouth and driven by the intense need for their services.
They began closing their doors within days as the Taliban began their lightning-fast advance through Afghan cities on August 6. we come.
A few hideout directors — not just those associated with Women for Afghan Women, but a handful of other long-standing shelters — chose to stay where they were, but kept quiet, fearing anything they said could cause harm. harm to the women in their care. No one accepts new cases.
“Our shelters, our women’s protection centers, are gone. It’s highly unlikely that we can do most of the work we do for women the way we’ve done it,” said Sunita Viswanath, co-founder of Women for Afghan Women.
Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan was at the bottom of every list when it came to protecting women, and at the top of the list when it came to the need for safe homes, advice and courts that can help protect women.
More than half of all Afghan women reported physical abuse and 17 percent reported sexual assault, while nearly 60 percent had forced marriages rather than arranged marriages, according to studies cited by the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs — and underreporting is widespread.
Honor killings, child marriages, paying a bride price for a woman and the practice of baad – trafficking young girls to pay the debts of the elderly, which amounts to selling a child into slavery – still occur in rural areas. . According to recent studies, harassment of women at work and in public is a constant everywhere, as is psychological abuse.
As the insurgency progressed, the primary concern of Women for Afghan Women staff and others running similar shelters was what the Taliban could do to punish them. As the rulers of the country in the 1990s, the Taliban vehemently opposed women who traveled alone or gathered together.
Relatively recent examples of Taliban behavior are worrisome. When the Taliban briefly took over the city of Kunduz in 2015, shelter operators and clients of Women for Afghan Women all fled as threatening calls from the insurgents poured in. The director of the shelter described active hunting and said she received calls from the Taliban saying they would capture her and hang her in the village square as an example.
But it’s not just fear of the Taliban this time that has scared shelter operators and their clients. Taliban fighters have come to a number of shelters in recent weeks. At times they have vandalized the property and taken over the buildings, but there have been no reports of harm to anyone, said Ms Viswanath, the group’s co-founder.
“To my knowledge, none of our employees have been beaten, attacked or killed,” she said.
Much of the concern has come from waves of detainees released during the Taliban advance. Among them were men imprisoned under women’s protection laws enacted with Western support over the past 20 years. The former inmates hold a grudge not only against the female relative who spoke out against and publicly humiliated them, but also against everyone who supported the effort—the directors of the hiding place, counselors and lawyers.
A woman from rural Baghlan province, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of death threats, described how she now changes places to sleep every few nights. She had previously worked with prosecutors to gather evidence of abuse in cases involving women
“After taking cities, the Taliban released all the prisoners. Among these prisoners were some who were convicted as a result of my work,” she said. “Now they threaten me, and there is no government or system to go and seek shelter. I’m just hiding somewhere.”
The shelters have been targeted for a long time. For many in Afghanistan’s rigorously patriarchal society—not just the Taliban—a woman who is alone or leaves her family is often viewed as a prostitute. Some see shelters for battered women as flimsy disguises for brothels.
However, in the past 15 years, despite the social antagonism towards protection for women, more and more people have started looking for shelter. Often with horrific injuries—broken bones or internal injuries from being severely beaten—women knocked over and over at the unmarked gates or ordinary houses where women’s aid groups brought people in.
Whether those operations will continue is in the hands of the Taliban, who are expected to announce their own laws to regulate women’s behavior. That will leave the former Afghan government’s Elimination of Violence Against Women Act, and other safeguards, on precarious grounds.
For now, Taliban officials have offered assurances that women would be allowed to work and, in some cases, travel without the accompaniment of a male relative — “as permitted under Sharia law,” or Islamic law. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid surprised some when he acknowledged, after other Taliban officials urged Afghan women to temporarily stay home for their own safety, that many within Taliban ranks could not be trusted to treat women civilly. , and should be trained .
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid the unrest following the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. They used brutal public punishment, including flogging, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more about their origin story and their track record as rulers.
But the Taliban made similar statements after taking the capital and most of the country in 1996.
“The explanation was that the security was not good and they were waiting for the security to be better, and then women would have more freedom,” said Heather Barr, associate director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “But of course, in those years they were in power, that moment never came — and I can promise you Afghan women who hear this today think it never will this time.”
For Mahbouba, a long-time activist to protect Afghan women, the picture is not yet clear. But she says she’s giving the Taliban the benefit of the doubt for now. She does not argue with their claim that everything must be done according to Sharia, because that is the religion of Afghanistan.
But how the Taliban interpret Sharia will also matter, she said.
“We just have to wait and see what happens. The Taliban haven’t really started anything — check in a month, in two months, in six months,” she said.
Mahbouba, whom the Times identifies with only one name to protect her and her organization, oversees a long-established safe house for women. She hasn’t fled or closed her doors, but she keeps a low profile and calibrates what she says to the news media, she said.
When some Taliban recently came to her office and said the women were being held against their will, Mahbouba said she didn’t let them in but went out to talk to them.
They told her they had heard that “some women are being held captive here”. She rejected that and instead said she defended the honor of Afghan women.
“I don’t let them go out on the street to be used and abused by other people; these are the victims of domestic violence,” she recalls. “So instead of running away and letting them go into prostitution, I’ve preserved their honor and protect them.”
The Taliban seemed to accept that explanation, and Mahbouba said she was determined to enter into a dialogue with them.
But she also made a request: Please, she said, “keep watching, and if our world gets messed up and it gets really awful, we can let people know.”
An employee of NewsMadura reported.