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On September 27, 1996, the Taliban, an extremist militia, seized control of the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, and violently plunged the occupied territories of Afghanistan into a brutal state of gender apartheid in which women and girls have been stripped of their basic human rights.

Upon seizing power, the Taliban instituted a system of gender apartheid, effectively thrusting the women of Afghanistan into a state of virtual house arrest. Under Taliban rule, women were banned from working or attending school, and prohibited from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative. When they went out, they had to wear a burqa, an oppressive garment that covers the entire body, with a small piece of mesh through which to see and breathe. Women were brutally beaten, flogged and even killed for violating Taliban decrees.

The recent defeat of the Taliban liberated Afghan women and girls from the regime's draconian decrees. The world is witnessing women in Mazar-e-Sharif, Kabul, and other cities going into the streets without male relatives and discarding their burquas-actions that would have garnered brutal punishments under the Taliban. However, the international community must act to ensure that women's rights are fully and permanently restored, and to reestablish a constitutional democracy in Afghanistan that is representative of women and ethnic minorities.

Led by the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Campaign to Help Afghan Women and Girls has brought together over 200 leading human rights and women's organizations in the U.S. and around the world to demand that the Afghan women's rights are fully and permanently restored. The Campaign helped stop the U.S. and United Nations from officially recognizing the Taliban, and substantially raised public awareness on this issue.

Gender Apartheid -- The Consequences

  • A woman who dared to defy Taliban orders by running a home school for girls was shot and killed in front of her husband, daughter, and students.
  • A woman caught trying to flee Afghanistan with a man not related to her was stoned to death for adultery.
  • An elderly woman was brutally beaten with a metal cable until her leg was broken because her ankle was accidentally showing from underneath her burqa.
  • Women have died of treatable ailments because male doctors were not allowed to treat them.
  • Many women, now forcibly housebound, have attempted suicide by swallowing household cleaner, rather than continuing to live under these conditions.
  • 97% of Afghan women surveyed by Physicians for Human Rights exhibit signs of major depression.

Taliban Law Is In Opposition To Islam

Prior to the Civil War and Taliban control, especially in Kabul, the capital, women in Afghanistan were educated and employed: 50% of the students and 60% of the teachers at Kabul University were women, and 70% of school teachers, 50% of civilian government workers, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women.

The Taliban claim to follow a pure, fundamentalist Islamic ideology, yet the oppression they perpetrate against women has no basis in Islam. Within Islam, women are allowed to earn and control their own money, and to participate in public life. The 55-member Organization of Islamic Conference has refused to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan's official government. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, regarded by many as an ultraconservative organization, has denounced the Taliban's decrees.

Who Supports the Taliban

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980's the United States through a CIA covert operation based in Pakistan supplied billions of dollars to support insurgent militia forces called the mujahideen (soldiers of God). Following the Soviets' withdrawal in 1989, factions of the mujahideen fell into a civil war and in 1994, the Taliban emerged as a dominant force. The Taliban is comprised of young men and boys of Afghan descent who have hardly lived in Afghan society. They were raised in refugee camps and trained in ultraconservative religious schools (madrasahs) in Pakistan. In addition, thousands of Pakistanis and hundreds or Arabs fight alongside the Taliban. Pakistan is the primary source of support to the Taliban, supplying military aid and personnel; Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and known terrorist organizations provide the Taliban with financial support. Additionally, Afghanistan is the one of the world's two largest producers of opium and a major drug-processing center; the Taliban occupies almost all areas of poppy cultivation. But perhaps the biggest potential for financial support lies in the petroleum industry.

U.S. Corporate Interests and the Taliban

International oil interests are in fierce competition to build pipelines through Afghanistan to link Caspian Sea oil and gas reserves to Central and South Asia. California-based UNOCAL, a US energy company, led the CentGas consortium that planned to build an oil and gas pipeline through Afghanistan. The Taliban stood to gain over $100 million a year from this pipeline. UNOCAL announced it was suspending the project at the end of 1998, citing in part, pressure from feminist organizations protesting the company's involvement with the Taliban. Other US and international corporate interests are vying for business in the country. Recently, Telephone Systems International (TSI), a New Jersey-based telecommunications firm, reached an agreement with the Taliban to install a satellite-based system throughout Afghanistan. Corporate investment under current conditions could mean billions of dollars to shore up the Taliban regime without regard for women's rights.

There are many ways you can help the women and girls in Afghanistan!

  • FMF Announces New Site to Help Afghan Women: In our continuing effort to urge the US government to restore the rights of Afghan women and girls and increase humanitarian aid to Afghan refugees, the Feminist Majority has launched a new website at www.HelpAfghanWomen.com. Send a message to the President, Secretary of State, and UN Representative to Afghanistan or make a donation to the Campaign. You can also join an Action Team to provide direct assistance to Afghan women-led organizations that provide health, education, and/or relief services. The rebirth of a peaceful, stable, and democratic Afghanistan must include Afghan women. www.HelpAfghanWomen.com
  • Join the Feminist Majority's Stop Gender Apartheid Campaign
  • Join the Back to School Campaign, which helps support Afghan girls' schools and recruit scholarships for Afghan women at U.S. colleges and universities.
  • Buy an Afghan craft, handmade by Afghan women refugees living in Pakistan. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of all items will go back to the Afghan women who made them.
  • Wear a symbol of remembrance - a small swatch of mesh material representing the burqa. The symbol is only $5 - half the proceeds go to the Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid and half will go directly to fund humanitarian assistance for the Afghan women and girls in refugee camps.
  • Show "Taliban: Prayer for Hate" or "Shroud of Silence." These short, educational videos chronicle the rise of the Taliban militia, explore their role in exporting drugs, and outline the brutal system of gender apartheid that forced one-half of Afghanistan's population into a state of virtual house arrest. These powerful videos are a must-see for those interested in mobilizing support for restoring the rights of Afghan women and girls.

Other organizations working on this issue:
Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)




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