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Afghan women’s resistance: “Even if it costs me my life, I will not wear a veil”

Latest NewsAfghan women's resistance: "Even if it costs me my life, I will not wear a veil"

“Paranda is a cage. This is violence against women. We won’t take any more. I’d rather go to jail than wear it again.” Margalar Fakirzai, 44, reacts with horror to a new demand from the Taliban government, which last week ruled that women must cover their faces in public. Fakirzai knows what she is talking about, she was a teenager during the previous Taliban regime (1996-2001), when the veil became a symbol of repression in Afghanistan: “Wearing the burqa, I felt trapped. Imprisoned in a cell without doors or windows. It’s dark, you can only see through a small hole. When I got rid of it, I took a deep breath. And I felt alive.” Twenty years later, she feels like the same extremists want to bury her alive again.

Before the Taliban came to power last August, Fakirzai worked for the Afghan Interior Ministry. “Now I am a prisoner in my house with my children,” says the woman, who lives with two 20-year-olds, a boyfriend and girlfriend who dropped out of university after the fall of the government, and a girl who can no longer attend high school. “It’s very hard, we all experience psychological problems,” he explains. But something has changed. “If we accept the imposition, we will lose. And we can’t lose, I have to prove it to my kids. We won’t accept Taliban law anymore.”

Despite initial promises of openness, for eight months the Taliban restricted the lives of women and girls with various edicts prohibiting attending high school, working except in certain positions, traveling more than 70 kilometers or flying in an airplane unaccompanied by a man, obtaining a driver’s license or even visiting doctor alone. Last Saturday, May 7, the Ministry of Propagating Virtue and Preventing Vice (replacing the former Ministry of Women’s Affairs) issued a decree from ultra-conservative leader Hibaytullah Akhunzade forcing women to cover their faces in public places. , preferably with a burqa, the only opening of which is a mesh at eye level. The text goes so far as to tell women not to leave their homes except in cases of force majeure, and lays down a range of penalties for the male relatives of those women who do not comply, including arrest and subsequent trial or dismissal of civil servants, although authorities have said that at first they will confine themselves to “encouraging” measures.

In Kabul, wearing a veil is unthinkable for women of all ages. 18-year-old Freshta Ali Yar never imagined the turn her life would take as she prepared to enter university. “When the Taliban came, I lost all my dreams, I wanted to be a doctor, stand up for myself, serve others, make my family proud… Now my life is bitter, I was free and I was locked up at home. For a month now I can not even decide what to put. I feel mentally ill, I think I’m depressed, they took my future forward. “In 1996, I was 18 when I was forced to wear a veil,” says Aina, who prefers not to be named. “If you could see your feet, you would be whipped, you had to put on socks and hide your hands. I was flogged, interrogated and humiliated several times. Burka doesn’t let you breathe, you can’t see where you’re going. It’s unbearable to think about wearing it again. We cannot accept it.”

A group of women demonstrated last Tuesday in Kabul against the veil. “Do not take women hostage,” read one of the banners. STRUNGER (EFE)

After the announcement, burqa sellers raised prices by 30%, according to the Reuters news agency, but lowered them again within a week due to low demand (the burqa costs about 1,300 afghani, 14 euros). Despite intimidation by armed Taliban, several women’s groups demonstrated with banners in Kabul. “The Taliban have not changed, they are still the same savages,” said Maryam Khasanzadeh, 24, who took part in one of the protests. “The difference is that this time we women will not be silent. We are not the same as before, we will not tolerate this oppression. We know our rights, we have enjoyed them for 20 years, we have seen the fruits of our efforts.” Before the arrival of the fundamentalists, Hasanzade was a clerk in the Ministry of Education. “First they took away our jobs, now they want to take away our identity,” he says, “we have no right to work, participate in politics and even decide our personal lives; if the situation continues, women will only be used for breeding and service.” “That is why we are taking to the streets,” she continues, “we will raise our voice, the Taliban must know that we are no longer the women they knew.” For this activist, women have become a political tool: “We are hostages of the Taliban; They are using us to get the attention of the international community.”

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On Thursday, five days after the Taliban’s announcement, the UN Security Council held an “emergency meeting” to discuss joint action against the burqa. Although the resolution is still pending, some participants have told the media that the situation of Afghan women is “unsustainable”. The British representative to the UN, Barbara Woodward, explained that before the Taliban came to power, 3.6 million girls were in schools, a quarter of Parliament was occupied by women, and they made up 20% of the country’s workforce. “Now the Taliban want to destroy it all,” she said, emphasizing that women should not put up with “life marginalized.”

Gender violence and censorship

Meanwhile, in Kabul, the women are doing their daily chores the best they can. For 23-year-old Susan Hamidi, a married mother of a child, the veil is “unacceptable.” “Even if it costs me my life, I won’t wear it,” says the lawyer, who worked for a private company. “I spent a fortune on self-education for many years and now it is useless,” he laments. “I will not allow my human right to be free to be curtailed. I will fight to the last drop of blood.” According to the lawyer, the position of women is “as bad as it was last time”, as “restrictions are growing every day and gender-based violence is increasing.” “Many families think like the Taliban and openly oppress their women, they know that no one will pay attention to them,” she condemns. “If it continues like this, we won’t be able to tell what is happening, the Taliban have learned to play politics, what they say to the media is very different from what they do, I myself refused to be interviewed because they dictate themes. about which I cannot speak. They censor us. Life has become a prison.”

Mina, a 22-year-old social science student who prefers not to be named, experiences what she considers “incomprehensible” from elsewhere: must continue to move forward, fight for a better future. Although, if this continues, I do not fully see this future … “. She attends classes at the university, “but as the Taliban dictate.” “I can no longer participate in social events, art classes or student meetings, although they were not political in nature and did not harm anyone; we girls go to class three days a week to avoid matching up with our classmates and we have to go fully dressed.” “I want to work like men,” he says. “For Afghanistan to solve at least part of its problems, it must do it with the help of women.”

An Afghan vendor displays a veil in his shop at the Mandawi Market in Kabul May 8. VAKIL KOHSAR (AFP)

Fatame Mohammadi, a 23-year-old computer science student, set up a sewing workshop for about 40 women who lost their jobs after the Taliban took over. “They were the breadwinners for their families, their economic situation is terrible, they lost their homes,” she says. Fatame tries to be a “window of hope” for them: “We work together so that they can at least meet their most basic needs, this is my way of serving the community,” she continues.

“Our dreams were shattered. Our hope is limited to getting a piece of bread,” activist Hasanzadeh says. In addition to the veil, many women are the heads of their families and are fighting hunger. “The economic problems are severe,” he continues, “and the country is in the hands of a few illiterate people who don’t know anything about anything, I see the Taliban coming down from the mountains… And they rule us. .” International organizations say that at least 23 million of the country’s nearly 40 million people are starving, and almost nine million are on the verge of starvation.

The seven women interviewed insist that the invisibility of women will further plunge their country into poverty and that the fight must be collective. They also insist on the emotional and psychological damage the new measure entails personally and that the veil is not part of their tradition or culture. “According to Islam, Afghans have always defended the use of the hijab. [pañuelo que no cubre la cara]Mina says. “For me, wearing a veil is like putting a bag over my head,” says Hamidi.

Burqa-wearing leader Hibaytullah Akhunzada rarely leaves southern Kandahar, the heart of Taliban conservatism, where clothing is more common than in the cities. His strict vision of Islam is mixed with local tribal traditions that protect, for example, the marriage of girls who have reached puberty. Decrees targeting women’s rights were sometimes misguided and in many cases dependent on regional authorities, being more restrictive in rural areas. Since the Taliban came to power, there has been a certain gap between the more pragmatic and hardline wing, which widened further in March, when the latter decided to ban secondary education for girls on the same day as lessons. A rift that some analysts believe may have begun to emerge in the aftermath of this latest crackdown on women.

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