Women’s Day: A day of misery for Afghan women

A number of women protesters in Kabul. Dec. 2022. File photo.

Wednesday, 8 March, marks International Women’s Day around the world and countries far and wide celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

For most people it’s really just another day – a day that’s not given all that much thought to on an individual basis. But for Afghan women, March 8 was always a special day.

Men and women acknowledged the day, and prior to the Taliban seizing control in August 2021, women in the country – both local and foreign – were wished a Happy Women’s Day and often presented with a rose, sometimes even cake.

It was an important day for the women; it was a day the younger generation took seriously. It was a day these women could stand tall and proud and work alongside their male colleagues, study at the same universities and participate in society as billions of women do around the world.

Little did Afghan women know that March 8 2021 would be the last such celebratory day for the foreseeable future. Little did the international community know that despite all the lip service being paid to the peace talks at that time, and the need to preserve the hard-gained rights of Afghan women and girls, this house of cards would indeed come tumbling down.

What took years to build was wiped out in a matter of months when the Taliban seized control – when they systematically began erasing women from society.

As a foreign woman, who enjoys the normal freedoms that society provides, and one who spent years in Afghanistan working alongside fun, intelligent, ambitious, caring and successful Afghan women, I often wonder whether the world actually realizes the abject horror and feelings of hopelessness these women are dealing with.

I also look at the current bunch of leaders in Afghanistan and for the most part I see old, conservative, miserable men who have stripped the people of all their joy.

The promises they made two, three years ago were really just lies and given that not a single one of them ever spoke about or appeared in public with their wives should have been a hint at what was to come.

There are immense problems in the country, and all too often the issue of governance has been raised. Governance by a group of militants who only knew conflict. Who lived in hiding – except for the chosen few that worked out of the group’s political office in Doha. 

For years they must have sat around plotting what they would do if they regained control, and who knows, they could well have planned their systematic ‘attack’ on women.

As a fledgling government, surely these old men have other things to focus on; other than what the next step against women will be and one wonders if they come together, sit around a table, and actually hold discussions on what more they can take from the women of their country.

Under the former republic government, women fought hard to be seen and heard, as they weren’t automatically accepted as being equal to their male counterparts.

They had to fight that much harder to be taken seriously, but these brave women were not put off and for years they struggled their way to the top of their chosen professions.

And slowly, 20 years into freedom, they were clearly making inroads – politically, academically, and medically to name just a few sectors.

Today that’s been unceremoniously stripped from them. They are holed up in their homes, behind high walls and covered windows. They may not ride in taxis without a male companion, nor can they travel alone – to name just a few restrictions.

For me, however, as an independent, career-oriented woman, this is unimaginable and I ask myself how would I cope psychologically if all my freedom was taken from me. How would I cope being locked up at home, not able to run errands, visit friends, go for a walk. And what would I do to pass the time?

One can only cook and clean so much!

I also wonder what would happen should the likes of US President Joe Biden issue such edicts against the women of his country. Or for that matter, any president in any country around the world.

There would be carnage. I can not see any other nation of women sitting back and accepting anything of this sort.

Last year, Afghan women started protesting – in fact they still are – despite being beaten up, tortured, arrested and dished out other treatment that only makes one shudder. So many of them have fled the country in order to save their lives.

Save their lives for fighting for what billions of us women around the world take for granted every day – our freedom. That’s the shocking reality of it.

So on what should be a day to celebrate – for millions of brave Afghan women – today should instead be a day to reflect, a day to show compassion and a day to remember all that they achieved and all that they will hopefully go on to achieve in future.And to the women of Afghanistan here’s hoping that the international community finds solutions; that it comes up with ways to deal with the Taliban and their draconian policies – as there is nothing remotely fair about the treatment being doled out to you all