By now, we’ve all seen those images from the Kabul airport in Afghanistan’s capital. The images, which show Afghanistan individuals and families rushing to the airport in desperation in the hopes of getting evacuated, revealed an alarming situation in the Middle East as the U.S. pulled back its military presence in the nation. Almost immediately, Afghanistan was overrun by the Taliban, who took control on August 15 and left the nation in a frantic state.
With the Taliban in power once again, a new question has emerged: What will happen to Afghani women?
Women in Afghanistan are in a vulnerable position. After years of making gains and millions of women being able to get an education–something that was virtually barred when the Taliban were previously in power–the future of women in Afghanistan is uncertain and at risk. In peril is women’s basic safety, freedom to go anywhere without the accompaniment of a man, to go to school or to have a job. Under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, women faced serious consequences, including death, for breaking the ultra-conservative rules.
There are plenty of criticisms lobbed at the U.S. Remember: the U.S. used Afghani women and children as part of its justification to remain in Afghanistan. Days after the U.S. military took control of Kabul, First Lady Laura Bush said, “The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”
“Because of our recent military gains, in much of Afghanistan women are no longer imprisoned in their homes,” Bush said. “They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment.”
When the Taliban took over Kabul on Sunday, it was without much resistance. U.S. forces had already pulled back, and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and recently emerged in the United Arab Emirates. Refugees created panicked scenes as embassies of Western nations moved to fly their people out of Afghanistan.
The Taliban has promised to respect women’s rights, to an extent, but the terrorist group has extremist conservative views of Islam, NPR reported. And many are skeptical women in Afghanistan will be able to keep their same freedoms.
“Afghan girls and young women are once again where I have been––in despair over the thought that they might never be allowed to see a classroom or hold a book again,” Malala Yousafzai, who survived an attack by the Taliban over her activism for girls’ education in Afghanistan, wrote in a New York Times op-ed this week. “Some members of the Taliban say they will not deny women and girls education or the right to work. But given the Taliban’s history of violently suppressing women’s rights, Afghan women’s fears are real. Already, we are hearing reports of female students being turned away from their universities, female workers from their offices.”
Since May, 250,000 Afghanis have fled their homes, 80% of which are women and children, according to the United Nations. Violence against women and children has steadily risen as U.S. and other international troops have recalled their forces, NPR reported.
Fortunately, there are those on the ground still working for the safety and wellbeing of women and girls in the country. While many officials fled, a handful of women in power stayed to fight and speak out against the Taliban. Check out NPR’s list of Afghani women who are risking everything to stay in their homeland.