The Taliban era is the darkest era of our history, says the 35-year-old Saeeda who is resident of Helmand province. “I have many bitter memories and experiences of the Taliban era. There was no school, girls were not allowed to attend school. With my young fellow girls, I had to attend an underground class, located in a house rented by a lady. The Taliban threatened us when they got to know about our education, we had to change our place constantly.”
During the Taliban rule, girls’ schools were closed down and Afghan women even did not have the right to wear dresses of their favorite colors. They were forced to wear burqa and were not allowed to get out of home unless accompanied by a male relative.
“One day, we were asked to wear white shalwar. A group of foreigners wanted to take our pictures secretly. Foreigners came and took our pictures but our teacher went through a lot of problems and she would have been killed if a male relative of her—who was member of Taliban group—had not saved her.”
Saeeda says that she witnessed many women being lashed, stopped, and killed by the Taliban: “One day when I was playing in the street, a group of women wearing burqa and flip flop got down of a car and walked towards their homes. A group of Taliban who saw these women’s flip flop, ran after them and started lashing them. They all were shocked, scared, and tried to run, but two of them couldn’t escape because their burqa got stuck on a branch of a tree, which led it to be removed from their heads. It was like a nightmare for me to watch such a scene, and I am sure that to this day if any of these women are alive, it would be hard for them to forget this memory.”
Saeeda is not the only one who has witnessed Taliban brutality and their rough treatment of women. Farokh, Shaharbanoo, and Adela also have similar experiences.
The 25-year-old Farokh, who used to live in Jaghori, says that during the Taliban rule, she was forced to leave school. “Every day, the Taliban used to come to our school to check on us. We had to wear burqa and except religious books, other books were not allowed to be taught. On our way back to home, we were usually chased by the Taliban, who would loudly scold us by saying that we were women and we had to stay at home.”
Fearing Taliban threats, her family finally decided to stop Farokh of attending school until the fall of Taliban regime in 2001.
Adela, and Shaharbanoo have similar experiences. Under Taliban rule, they were forced to stay at home.
“When for the first time I wore burqa, I got severe headache. It was not easy for me to get used to it. Many times, I fell down in the street and injured myself, but I had no other choice,” says Adela, 38. Once her 12-year-old sister-in-law was lashed by Taliban for she was out, in front of gate, without having burqa on her head.
The 31-year-old Shaharbanoo says she grew up watching her mother and grandmother wearing burqa, covering head to toe. “We used to live in Barchi, Kabul. Seeing the rapid changes took place after the fall of Taliban, I realized how oppressed the women were. I remember that me walking with my mother in the street, she used to shiver because of having the fear of being chased by a Talib.”
19 years have passed since the fall of the Taliban but a large number of people still suffer from scars of violence and oppression. With a peace deal signed with the US government, many people particularly women hope an end to violence against women but the reality looks far more different than what people wish as the Taliban commanders and fighters have shown no change in their behavior towards women in the areas under their control.
Saeeda, who lives in Bazaar area of Helmand province, is currently a university professor. She expresses concerns over Taliban comeback to power. In the last 19 years, the situation for women have improved but not so much. “A few weeks earlier, a gym was opened for women, but before getting a chance to visit the place, I heard that the place was closed by a group of people, purporting that it was a place for immoral actions.”
The southern Helmand province is the second largest province where Taliban have strong influence. The province is conservative and women face closed-minded conservative men every day.
“I personally work at a university and half of my colleagues are Talib who do not allow female students to bring cellphones with them to the university and girls are separated from boys at the university. As a woman, I am worried, the level of violence may increase once the Taliban are back.”
Farokh, Shaharbanoo, and Adela express similar concerns. They are worried about their freedom and rights. “I have no problem with the Taliban though I have lost two of my children in explosions devised by the group. I lost my 17-year-old son on March 30, 2015, and my 22-year-old daughter on April 07, 2018. My husband is blind, I have two young daughters, and I am the only breadwinner of the family. As a woman, I am concerned and if the Taliban do not allow women to work outside home again or get education, we all will starve to death,” says Adela.