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  • Su Lee

The Crisis in Afghanistan: Thousands of Girls and Women at Risk of Sexual Violence

Two decades after the U.S.-led coalition of international troops invaded Afghanistan and drove out the Taliban, Kabul has once again fallen to the brutal insurgents. The Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan shows a bleak future for most Afghan women who have been able to make huge strides in the past two decades. Although the Taliban claims that it will be more lenient with women’s rights, this façade of a moderate and legitimate government is unlikely to last. During the five years the Taliban ruled, it carried out numerous restrictions on women’s rights such as: - Forbidding girls and women education and the right to work - Mandating that a male guardian accompany any woman who goes outside - Carrying out gruesome public executions including honor killings through stoning

Regarding the treatment of women during the Taliban’s rule, President George W. Bush said back in 2001, “Women are imprisoned in their homes, and are denied access to basic health care and education. Food sent to help starving people is stolen by their leaders. The religious monuments of other faiths are destroyed. Children are forbidden to fly kites, or sing songs... A girl of seven is beaten for wearing white shoes.” (President George W. Bush, Remarks to the Warsaw Conference on Combating Terrorism, November 6, 2001) The unstable region had slowly began to implement policies to support women. Regarding sexual violence, the Afghan government created specialized police units called “Family Response Units,” as well as special courts with female judges to provide more specialized support for victims. However, social stigma, family pressure, financial constraints, and threats still deter most Afghan women from reporting cases. In 2015, as Taliban fighters gained control of Kunduz, they created hit lists, raping and killing civilians on them. Thousands fled from the city as the Taliban’s reign of terror continued on for days. A woman who worked as a midwife in a maternity hospital in Kunduz was gang-raped and killed by Taliban fighters because the hospital provided reproductive health services to women. In July 2021, Taliban leaders who took control of the provinces of Badakshan and Takhar demanded that local leaders hand over a list of girls over the age of 15 and widows under the age of 45 to be married off to Taliban fighters. Although it is hard to confirm whether local leaders complied to such orders, recent reports alarmingly say that the age has been extended down to as young as 12. Tahira, who is from the western city of Herat, was married off by her family when she was 19 and got her divorce two years later. Shunned by her family, she has no male guardian and therefore won’t be able to leave her house with new Taliban restrictions. As a young widow, she is particularly vulnerable to a life of forced marriage with Taliban fighters. She says, “We are very worried about the forced marriages by the Taliban. If they come for us like this, then we will end our lives. It will be the only option for us.” Zar Begum, a fleeing Afghan mother in tears says, “Taliban militants forcibly evicted me at gunpoint, killed my sons, and forcibly married my daughters-in-law.”

Considering its most recent actions, it is hard to believe the Taliban’s claims of being a more moderate and peaceful governing body. The practice of forced marriages is especially likely to continue since it is one of the main methods of recruiting men to join the Taliban. In addition, Taliban members operate under a strict interpretation of Islam which label women as ‘kaniz’ (commodities) and thus they are considered as ‘qhanimat’ (spoils of war) that fighters are entitled to claim as legitimate victors. Women in Afghanistan are currently living in a climate of brutal repression, a regression from the strides they have made since 2001. And to these women, the threat of rape is in itself a controlling force, instilling fear and compliance. A proud Afghan female soldier says, “I am afraid I will be kidnapped, imprisoned and rape for being a soldier. I am afraid for my future and for my family.”

As UN Resolution 1820 adopted in 2008 states, “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide.” Afghan women are currently exposed to sexual slavery, forced marriages, and mass rape. It is critical that any negotiations with the Taliban or Afghanistan government officials be taken with the active participation of Afghan women. Since sexual violence is still a taboo topic in middle eastern countries, the international community must actively take part in protecting women in Afghanistan who are at great risk of the Taliban’s violence.

What can YOU do? 1. AMPLIFY Afghan Women’s Voices Afghan female journalists are one of the most at-risk groups being targeted by the Taliban. Female journalists are valuable and rare because they report news from the perspective of Afghan women, whose voices are particularly vulnerable to being silenced. Rukhshana Media, first established in November 2020 and named after a women who was stoned to death by the Taliban in 2015, produces news reported by Afghan women. Please consider donating to this organization and protect Afghan female journalists. https://chuffed.org/project/reporting-on-issues-that-affect-afghan-women-is-expensive-rukhshana-media-needs-your-help 2. Sign Petitions There are many petitions floating around social media right now. This is one of many that I found very important: “Pres. Biden and Congress: Ensure Afghan women’s rights alongside peace with the Taliban” https://www.change.org/p/pres-biden-and-congress-ensure-afghan-women-s-rights-alongside-peace-with-the-taliban?recruiter=1098675430&recruited_by_id=20666ad0-a214-11ea-9cc6-abf4315eafd7&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=psf_combo_share_abi 3. DONATE to organizations. CARE: emergency food and shelter for 500,000 displaced Afghans https://my.care.org/site/Donation2?df_id=30197&mfc_pref=T&30197.donation=form1&s_src=172223SF2X00&s_subsrc=FY22ERAfghanistanWeb&_ga=2.21103163.1401786094.1629135650-537530256.1629135650&_gac=1.222117226.1629220841.Cj0KCQjwvO2IBhCzARIsALw3ASoGEgKXZ-CLjGrg4tg9Ule4yfWhwCLQ1so0yQ_C3eMyaQK1EmaroHAaAqA8EALw_wcB The International Rescue Committee: helps displaced people around the world, currently focusing on the Afghan refugee crisis https://www.rescue.org/ No One Left Behind: helps Afghan citizens who helped America such as interpreters get visas and resettle. https://nooneleft.org/default.aspx Human Rights First: helps protect online identities of Afghan civilians from the Taliban’s extensive databases. Currently needs donations to fund operations as well as pro-bono lawyers to help resettle Afghan refugees. https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/resources-afghan-evacuation Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service: helps Afghan refugees. VOLUNTEER by helping with airport pickups, housing, donating meals and items for Afghan refugees. https://lirsconnect.org/get_involved/action_center/siv Help STOCK an Afghan refugee’s home with this Amazon Wish List: https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/51YHKQCU0DW6/ref=hz_ls_biz_ex Sources: https://apnews.com/article/religion-taliban-7ab054c063e4ea1c14be9e4811f42982 https://2001-2009.state.gov/g/drl/rls/6185.htm https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/08/05/i-thought-our-life-might-get-better/implementing-afghanistans-elimination# https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/press-release/2015/10/afghanistan-harrowing-accounts-emerge-of-the-talibans-reign-of-terror-in-kunduz/ https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/aug/13/nowhere-to-go-divorced-afghan-women-in-peril-as-the-taliban-close-in https://www.albawaba.com/news/young-12-taliban-forces-marry-girls-forcibly-1442164 https://nypost.com/2021/08/17/female-afghan-soldier-fears-rape-death-under-new-taliban-rule/