With the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, women left behind a period when they were denied education and relegated to domestic chores

Afghan women fear another era of darkness as Taliban advance rapidly

AFP/HOSHANG HASHIMI - Members of an internally displaced Afghan family

Afghan women, who have made great strides in rights in recent years after the fall of the Taliban regime two decades ago in Afghanistan, now fear another era of darkness because of the rapid insurgent advance.

"If the Taliban come to power with their extremist mentality, it will really be a big shame, a big joke and a big tragedy, not only for Afghans, but for the world," entrepreneur Fakhria Momtaz, 44, who runs a women's yoga club in Kabul, told Efe.

Momtaz noted that most countries involved in the Afghan conflict spent large fortunes to improve "human rights, women's rights and democracy", but if the Taliban return to power, it will mean that those nations "did not believe in what they fought for".


"I am sure the Taliban will not allow us to practice yoga," she said with concern.

More rights

With the ouster of the Taliban in 2001 after the US invasion, women left behind a period when they were denied education and relegated to domestic chores, regardless of their education or previous jobs.

Today, 3.5 million girls attend school, more than 25% of members of parliament are women, as are almost 30% of those employed in public administration institutions; some even hold high-level positions as ministers and ambassadors to major foreign missions.

But following the start of the final phase of the withdrawal of foreign troops on 1 May, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of this month, the Taliban have conquered new districts at an unprecedented pace, raising fears of loss of rights, especially among women.


"Afghan women have come a long way. We have our ideas, strategies and solutions. We don't want those involved in atrocities (...) to take back power and make decisions for us," said activist Samira Hamidi on Twitter.

The young artist Zahra Abdullahi also believes that "after taking Kabul, the Taliban will no longer allow us as women to continue our normal lives. They will hinder women's progress. Once again, we will be imprisoned in our homes".

Indeed, in the areas they have recently captured, the insurgents have already restricted the rights and social freedoms of women and girls, according to several Afghan officials and civilians in those areas.


Afghan women have been deprived of work and schooling and in some areas are instructed to wear the hijab, which leaves only the face uncovered, and not to leave the house unaccompanied by a man.

But because women today are not the same as they were two decades ago, if the Taliban return to power, large numbers of young and educated women will be forced to leave the country, Momtaz warned.

"I will be one of those who will leave," she confessed, because "with my hands tied, I will not be able to serve, be effective and fight for women's rights in Afghanistan".

More extremism

The advance of the Taliban has led to a rise in extremist thinking, including in Kabul. Momtaz has already been threatened by three prominent religious leaders in the last year.


"When the Taliban were defeated (in 2001) our citizens became open-minded and liberal; but now that the Taliban are moving towards taking power, some citizens automatically close themselves off and love extremist thoughts, and this has a very profound effect on women's daily lives," she said.

She has noticed that in recent years the number of female students attending her classes has decreased significantly due to the deteriorating security situation in the country.

"Women and girls used to come from various parts of the city. Now, due to security concerns, most of them do not want to attend, while a large number of them have already left the country and fled abroad," she explained.


Among her pupils is Masouma Mosawi, a 29-year-old business and economics graduate who has not yet been able to find a job.

Mosawi agrees with her teacher that if the Taliban take power in Afghanistan, her rights and freedoms will be curtailed and she will therefore have to leave the country.

"If you take that little bit of happiness out of my life, why should I live here? Afghanistan will be nothing but a graveyard for women," she said.