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The Taliban says Afghan women will have more rights this time – but not everyone is convinced

By sbs , in World News , at August 21, 2021 Tags: , ,

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When Azadah Raz Mohammad was born in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, the Soviet Union was withdrawing from the country and the Taliban was taking control. 

Today, more than three decades later, and just weeks after she gave birth to her own daughter, things feel eerily similar.

The United States and its allies, including Australia, have withdrawn from Afghanistan after a 20-year military campaign and the Taliban has reclaimed the country once again. 

“I never ever thought this would happen this fast and this quickly,” Ms Mohammad told SBS News.

“I had so much faith in what we had achieved in the last 20 years and so much faith in the international community in not letting this happen again.”

Azadah Raz Mohammad while back in Afghanistan in 2013

Growing up as a young Hazara girl in Afghanistan, Ms Mohammad, who is now a humanitarian lawyer and lives in Melbourne, remembers living in extreme fear under the Taliban.

“I was ten and I had to wear a scarf and I remember how fearful I was. They would peek inside our cars to see who was inside. We were horrified they would stop us at any time,” she said. 

She said it was especially difficult for younger children who couldn’t understand what was happening. 

“I had a two-year-old sister and when my mum had to wear a burqa, my sister kept crying because she couldn’t recognise my mum. She was crying because she didn’t know who was holding her.” 

‘The international community is watching’

On Tuesday, at the Taliban’s first press conference since seizing Kabul, spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said things would be “positively different” from its 1996-2001 regime.

The group’s previous rule was characterised by a brutal interpretation of Islam that prevented Afghan women from working, studying, or travelling without a male “guardian”. 

This time, Mr Mujahid said women would have rights to education, health and employment, and that they would be “happy” abiding by the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law.

“If the question is based on ideology, and beliefs, there is no difference … but if we calculate [whether we have changed] based on experience, maturity, and insight, no doubt there are many differences,” he said.

But because of the things she’s seen as a child and as a humanitarian lawyer, Ms Mohammad believes the Taliban’s new apparent progressive agenda is all a facade. 

Ms Mohammad said Mr Mujahid said the things he did because the Taliban “needs international recognition”.

“They know the international community is watching them,” she said.

“Just two weeks ago I was told women were fleeing in the provinces because the Taliban were coming to their houses looking for young females and saying that females between 14 and 25 should be married off to their fighters.”

A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women defaced using spray paint in Kabul on August 18, 2021.

A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women defaced using spray paint in Kabul on August 18, 2021.

Elisabeth Yarbakhsh, from the Australian National University, said the comments were part of a Taliban attempt to “reposition themselves internationally”.

“I think we should expect the Taliban to still be the Taliban and change on an international scale but maintain the same approach as before domestically,” she said.

Concern for women and girls since the Taliban retook Afghanistan has been widespread.

The European Union, United States, and 19 other countries issued a joint statement on Wednesday saying they were “deeply worried about Afghan women and girls”.

Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who survived a Pakistani Taliban assassination attempt when she was just 15 years old, also wrote “I fear for my Afghan sisters” in an op-ed published in The New York Times.

There have also been reports this week by Afghan broadcaster ToloNews of a woman shot dead for not wearing a burqa, and female journalists and presenters being told they will no longer be allowed to work. 

“There are already concerning stories coming out,” Dr Yarbakhsh said.

“We are in that transitional stage and so it is a matter of seeing how it pans out. My expectation is there will be a reversion to that and certainly there’s signs that’s already happening.”

‘Women’s lives have ended’

The situation unfolding is also of concern for Sydneysider Ali*, whose sister lives alone in Kabul.

As someone who’s seen firsthand how dangerous the Taliban can be, he has been struggling to cope. 

“All night I couldn’t sleep. I’m just calling her and trying to calm her and give her hope because she has given up. She’s had previous interactions with the Taliban and she’s scared,” he told SBS News.

Ali and his family grew up in a small Hazara community during the Taliban’s last reign. He said they would frequently perform public executions of women. 

“We had a mosque there and they would bring people there every day and punish them and we as children would just watch them. Every day that was our show,” he said.

Ali is desperately trying to get in touch with embassies from across the globe to try and help his sister flee Afghanistan. 

“I believe women’s lives have ended in Afghanistan unless the world puts pressure on the Taliban to accept an election-based government,” he said.

“Otherwise, there’s no point for women to have hope or to live under their conditions.”

With AFP.

*not his real name

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