Afghan women are celebrating International Women’s Day with a fearful eye to the future

Afghan women are celebrating International Women’s Day with a fearful eye to the future

Afghan women are celebrating International Women’s Day with a fearful eye to the future

The women of Afghanistan will mark International Women’s Day today with a public holiday that will give them time to reflect on what could be their fate if the extreme misogynists of the Taliban are successful in their quest to return to power in their country.

A so-called peace process prompted by US President Donald Trump, aimed at ending the long war in Afghanistan and, more importantly, withdrawing American troops ahead of his possible bid for re-election in 2020, has given the Taliban a long sought-after global platform as a legitimate political force.

At the same time, it has marginalised and delegitimised the Afghan government and the people it represents, by indulging the Taliban in their insistence that they talk directly to Washington rather than to the “puppets” it claims the US has installed in Kabul.


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Taliban figures who appear to have breached international travel bans to attend these get-togethers have been provided with largely uncritical air time to proclaim they will honour women’s rights according to unspecified “Islamic values” and “Afghan culture.”

Afghans fear they will be forced to pay if they are pressured into accepting peace on terms dictated by the political agenda of a president who is rushing for the exit without regard for the huge strides made for all Afghans, and especially for women, since 2001.

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1/17

Radical political activist Angela Davis speaks at a protest in Raleigh

Getty

2/17

Poor pay, 14 hour days and dangerous working conditions led to a strike by around 1400 women and girls at a match factory in Bow, London, 1888. The action was later coined ‘The Matchgirls Strike’

3/17

Christabel Pankhurst, one of the founders of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and a leading member of the suffragette movement, addresses a crowd in Trafalgar Square in a speech in which she invites the crowd to ‘rush’ the House of Commons, 11 October 1908. Christabel Pankhurst and her mother Emmeline, alongside Flora Drummond, were arrested two days later charged with conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace. The rush on parliament went ahead without them however, with over 60,000 suffragettes attempting to break through the 5000 strong police cordon protecting parliament.

Getty

4/17

Suffragette Emily Davison is hit and killed by King George V’s horse Anmer during the 1913 Epsom Derby. She fell underneath the galloping horse after leaping from the crowd and trying to grab hold of the reins

Getty

5/17

Striking women machinists from the Ford plant at Dagenham protest outside negotiations over their wages, 1968. The women went on strike over their lack of pay in relation to their male colleagues. The action helped to trigger the Equal Pay Act 1970

Getty

6/17

The women’s liberation movement march in Washington, August 1970

Getty

7/17

Protestors disrupt the 1970 Miss World competition.
Original caption: ‘The Miss World contest causes a feminist storm as demonstrators invade the Royal Albert Hall where the contest was held. Protestors fired ink at spectators and let off stink bombs in scenes resembling a school assembly. The unruly ladies were eventually expelled from the hall by security guards and policemen’

Getty

8/17

Somalians demonstrating in Mogadishu for the release of Angela Davis, March 1972, a Black Panther activist imprisoned in the USA after being charged with first degree murder. Davis was later acquitted

Getty

9/17

Jayaben Desai, one of the mostly British-Asian women out on strike at the Grunwick factory in 1977, pictured on the picket line

Getty

10/17

Women protest against nuclear weapons outside of RAF base Greenham Common, 1982

Getty

11/17

Indian protestors hold candles during a rally in New Delhi in December 2012, after the death of a student who was gang raped on a bus in the Indian capital

Getty

12/17

A feminist group Sisters Uncut protesting against cuts to domestic violence refuges occupy the red carpet during a protest at the Suffragette premiere, 7 October 2015

Getty

13/17

People gather for the Women’s March in Washington, January 2017

Reuters

14/17

Protesters walk during the Women’s March on Washington, with the US Capitol in the background, in January, 2017. Donald Trump was sworn in as president the previous day

Getty

15/17

Women march as part of the gender equality protest in London, March 2017

AFP/Getty

16/17

Demonstrators march through during the March4Women event, 4 March 2018, London

Getty

17/17

Placards are displayed during the March4Women, 4 March 2018, London

Getty


1/17

Radical political activist Angela Davis speaks at a protest in Raleigh

Getty

2/17

Poor pay, 14 hour days and dangerous working conditions led to a strike by around 1400 women and girls at a match factory in Bow, London, 1888. The action was later coined ‘The Matchgirls Strike’

3/17

Christabel Pankhurst, one of the founders of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and a leading member of the suffragette movement, addresses a crowd in Trafalgar Square in a speech in which she invites the crowd to ‘rush’ the House of Commons, 11 October 1908. Christabel Pankhurst and her mother Emmeline, alongside Flora Drummond, were arrested two days later charged with conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace. The rush on parliament went ahead without them however, with over 60,000 suffragettes attempting to break through the 5000 strong police cordon protecting parliament.

Getty

4/17

Suffragette Emily Davison is hit and killed by King George V’s horse Anmer during the 1913 Epsom Derby. She fell underneath the galloping horse after leaping from the crowd and trying to grab hold of the reins

Getty


5/17

Striking women machinists from the Ford plant at Dagenham protest outside negotiations over their wages, 1968. The women went on strike over their lack of pay in relation to their male colleagues. The action helped to trigger the Equal Pay Act 1970

Getty

6/17

The women’s liberation movement march in Washington, August 1970

Getty

7/17

Protestors disrupt the 1970 Miss World competition.
Original caption: ‘The Miss World contest causes a feminist storm as demonstrators invade the Royal Albert Hall where the contest was held. Protestors fired ink at spectators and let off stink bombs in scenes resembling a school assembly. The unruly ladies were eventually expelled from the hall by security guards and policemen’

Getty

8/17

Somalians demonstrating in Mogadishu for the release of Angela Davis, March 1972, a Black Panther activist imprisoned in the USA after being charged with first degree murder. Davis was later acquitted

Getty


9/17

Jayaben Desai, one of the mostly British-Asian women out on strike at the Grunwick factory in 1977, pictured on the picket line

Getty

10/17

Women protest against nuclear weapons outside of RAF base Greenham Common, 1982

Getty

11/17

Indian protestors hold candles during a rally in New Delhi in December 2012, after the death of a student who was gang raped on a bus in the Indian capital

Getty

12/17

A feminist group Sisters Uncut protesting against cuts to domestic violence refuges occupy the red carpet during a protest at the Suffragette premiere, 7 October 2015

Getty


13/17

People gather for the Women’s March in Washington, January 2017

Reuters

14/17

Protesters walk during the Women’s March on Washington, with the US Capitol in the background, in January, 2017. Donald Trump was sworn in as president the previous day

Getty

15/17

Women march as part of the gender equality protest in London, March 2017

AFP/Getty

16/17

Demonstrators march through during the March4Women event, 4 March 2018, London

Getty


17/17

Placards are displayed during the March4Women, 4 March 2018, London

Getty

Critically, the Taliban, from their redoubts in Pakistan, refuse to acknowledge Afghanistan’s constitution, which guarantees a range of rights that we in the West take for granted, including rule of law; freedoms of speech, media and association; and, for women, equality and protection from violence.

It is just 18 years since the Taliban were forced from power in Afghanistan after harbouring Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network throughout the planning and execution of the 9/11 attacks on the US.

The treatment of women under their five-year regime featured prominently in the justification for the allied invasion that came just weeks after those attacks. The Taliban infamously forced women to remain inside their homes, and to appear in public only in the company of male relatives and then only if they were wearing all-covering garments called burqas which make seeing and walking difficult.

Taliban enforcers roamed the streets to enforce an “Islamic” women’s dress code, and publicly whipped any women they saw transgressing, however minutely, unwritten rules on how they should be clothed.

Girls were banned from school, and women from jobs. Not just their identity but their very existence was denied to them. Horrific photographs from that era show anonymous figures shrouded in blue rayon burqas quivering on their knees in public arenas, waiting to be executed for their apparent crimes, in front of crowds bussed in to observe the spectacle.

This brutality towards women – as well as bans on music, dancing, the national pastime of kite-flying; anything, really, that brought joy – was justified with recourse to their own interpretation of their religion.

Recent Taliban statements hint at just how they regard the gains made since 2001, denouncing “so-called women’s rights activists” and the “alien-culture clothes worn by women,” while claiming commitment “to all rights of women that have been given to them by the sacred religion of Islam”.

The war in Afghanistan since 2001 has been costly, with 454 British and more than 2,400 American soldiers killed, and many more killed and wounded from allied nations. It has become fashionable in some quarters to say that it was all for nought, that the Taliban’s territorial gains are indicative of Western failure, that the time to leave is well overdue.


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This thinking ignores the phenomenal progress that the country has made, with the help of its Western allies, to transform itself in less than 20 years into an emerging parliamentary democracy and trading link between East and West.

No one could claim that Afghanistan has become a perfect model of democratic statehood since 2001; this is a multi-generational project that has only just begun. Millions of Afghan people who have braved Taliban threats and attacks to vote in multiple elections have shown they have faith in this project.

Millions of girls go to school and university; women run their own businesses and sit in parliament. They have access to health care and justice; thriving civil society and media champion their rights every day. All this exists where nothing did under the Taliban.

The men who spout vacuous platitudes in their vainglorious attempt to hoodwink Trump’s emissaries into believing they are honourable, have spent their time cornering the global market in heroin while sending children in suicide vests to murder fellow Afghans.

Few Afghan women see the Taliban as anything other than the baby killers and widow makers that they are. Let’s listen, on this of all days, when they remind us of what they have gained, and, more vitally, tell us what they could lose if the Taliban are permitted any say in the future of Afghanistan.


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