By D. Lyn Hunter,
This is the plight of more than 11 million Afghani women living under the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban, an Islamic militia that seized control of much of the country in 1996 after a prolonged war against the Soviet Union.
Sima Wali, an Afghani refugee and women's rights advocate, spoke on campus March 9 about the oppression of women in her native country and possible solutions to the problem. She encouraged audience members to raise their voices and put pressure on both national and international government agencies to deal with the situation.
Wali said she held the U.S. "accountable" for helping to create this situation, by funding the extremists in their war against the Soviet Union. "The American government needs to understand that its efforts to remove the 'evil empire' in Afghanistan resulted in the creation of the Taliban."
She challenged the United States to take responsibility for its actions by assuming a leadership role in re-establishing human rights for women in Afghanistan. Sending relief money is not enough, she said.
"Instead of a band-aid solution, we need to address the larger geopolitical problem that allows the continuation of Taliban control," said Wali.
The United States, she said, could help eradicate the gender apartheid gripping Afghanistan by providing asylum for Afghani refugees, stemming the flow of arms enabling the Taliban to continue its lucrative drug trafficking, including women in peace negotiations and supporting relief efforts organized by indigenous refugees themselves.
But, according to Wali, time is running out for Afghan women, many of whom are committing suicide or dying because they cannot be treated by male doctors. Women are no longer permitted to practice medicine.
According to various news reports, Afghani women suspected of breaking the Taliban's strict code of conduct have been publicly flogged, beaten or stoned to death; women have been killed by cars because their burqas restrict their vision; females are not permitted to wear white socks and their shoes cannot make noise when they walk; and homes with women in them must have their windows painted with opaque paint. At a state orphanage in Kabul, the girls reportedly have not been allowed outside since September of 1996.
Prior to the Taliban's rule, Afghan women made up more than 50 percent of the students at Kabul University, 70 percent of the nation's school teachers, 50 percent of civilian government workers and 40 percent of the doctors, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation. Wali said that while the Taliban claims to be following fundamentalist Islamic ideology, the oppression they perpetuate against women has no Islamic basis. Under Islam, she said, women are allowed to work, earn and control their own money and participate in public life.
"The Taliban has nothing to do with Afghan tribal culture," said Wali. "Our women have been robbed of gains we have made."
Wali is the winner of Amnesty International's Ginetta Sagan Fund Award and is president of Refugee Women in Development, an organization that works to heighten awareness of human rights abuses against uprooted women.