Afghanistan: Women, Economy and Taliban

By discrimination on the basis of gender, the Taliban are violating key principles of equality laid down in Islam

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In Islam, there are no restrictions on the work and education of women. A clear example of this is Hazrat Khadijeh, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad. Khadijeh, the daughter of Khwild, was a wealthy woman who engaged in trade and commerce in the age of Arab barbarism, when many girls were buried alive after birth.

The hypothesis of acquiring knowledge and education in men and women has also been confirmed in Quran and hadith. There is an authentic hadith from the Holy Prophet (PBUH) which says that “seeking knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim man and Muslim woman.”

Article 22 of the Afghan Constitution, adopted in 2004, explicitly bats for gender equality – all forms of discrimination are prohibited. Afghan citizens, both men and women, have equal rights and duties under the law.

Women make up half of society in any country and play a significant role in the economy. Women have been one of the most vulnerable groups in the history of Afghanistan. Decades of war, cultural backwardness in Afghan society, have left women in social and cultural poverty, with little opportunity for advancement. Due to the illiteracy of many men and women in the traditional society and adherence to certain ethnic customs, less attention was paid to the role and position of women in political, economic and social affairs. But Afghan women struggled with the challenges despite all the difficulties.

The previous Taliban government in Afghanistan was referred to as the Dark Age for Afghan women, when the Taliban regime issued strict decrees barring women and girls from studying, working, and leaving home unaccompanied. The only permissible covering for women was the burqa / chador, which was issued by special ministries called “commanding the good and forbidding the evil” and included punishments such as flogging, public execution, and stoning. Then there were shocking instances of rape, sexual slavery, forced and child marriages were also included.

Opportunities for socio-political and economic participation for women were eliminated and women were excluded from these fields. The women were left at home, forcing themselves to work hard for a living, such as weaving carpets, breaking almonds and four nuts, sewing, etc., for very low wages.

In the last 20 years since the fall of the first round of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Afghanistan has been a fertile ground for the expansion of women’s activities. After the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, most of the international community concentrated on women empowerment in Afghanistan and the number of educated women increased day by day.

Many women became involved in large-scale activities inside and outside the government. In the meantime, women have played a good role in small and medium-sized businesses and investments. The establishment of women’s business enterprises during this period was to some extent effective in improving the economic situation of women and reducing poverty. It was expected that in the long run women would be in better and more key positions and more involved in government decision-making. 

According to the statistics of the National Statistics Office, two years ago, 24% of the civil servants were women, of which 4,12,000 were government employees. Out of these, about 1,01,216 were women who held various leadership positions of ministers, consulting and as security, police guard etc. The highest number of women worked in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the lowest in the Ministry of Independent Commissions.

According to statistics from the Afghan Ministry of Commerce and Industries, women led less than five percent of Afghanistan’s business a year ago, and the number of women-owned businesses was growing. Nearly 50,000 women in Afghanistan engaged in business, leading approximately 1,550 women-owned businesses in Afghanistan, and these women played a role in the labour market, most of them worked in manufacturing, clothing, food processing, and the production and sale of agricultural products.

About 2,741 women were licensed and work formally, and the rest operated without a formal work permit. The Ministry of Finance had also stated that in the budget for the year, it had allocated about $ 36 million for the support and economic empowerment of women. Afghan businesswomen invested $ 68 million and owned an industrial park in Kabul and many in the provinces, where more than 100 women producers worked directly in the industries, providing employment for thousands of other women.

Now that the Taliban have regained control of Afghanistan, the situation of women has returned to zero and the Dark Age once again, and unfortunately, the concerns and despair of Afghan citizens, especially women and girls, cannot be overstated. Women were thrown into the situation two decades ago, and they are still afraid of how long they will be imprisoned in the corners of their homes and deprived of the right to education, work and community activities.

The Taliban prime minister had assured that women’s rights would be protected under “Sharia law”. But there is still no “clear position” on how they will support women, and when the gates of schools, universities and work in general will be open to women. The apparent under-representation of women in the workplace is also a major problem for women these days.

The current Taliban cabinet is made up of all its members, most of them are Pashtuns, and all men. There is no any woman in this cabinet. Some members of this cabinet are on the UN sanctions list. Four of them are former Guantanamo detainees.

With the arrival of the Taliban in Afghanistan, many international and national offices, a number of government agencies, embassies, and a large number of media outlets and businesses were closed down. The Ministry of Women Affairs- MoWA, that had about 900 employees and worked in 34 provincial departments, closed down. Instead of that, the Ministry of Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil began to work.

Afghanistan needs $ 6 billion to $ 8 billion a year in international aid to fund basic services, support growth, and sustain peace efforts. Although the international community has begun distributing cash to internally displaced persons and poor families, it has continued to distribute between 6,000 and 15,000 AFN per family, and food items are distributed in some provinces in a scattered and irregular manner by foreign offices.

Unfortunately, corruption is still in its place, so some families receive such amount many times and some family never receive it.  The estimated number of Afghan families is more than 7 people, when their income is not regular and consistent, this amount of money and food is not enough for one family during a month, and people are often left on the brink of starvation.

Afghanistan is facing a humanitarian crisis and famine after the Taliban came to power following a cut in aid by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. One of the conditions for many donors to Afghanistan to resume is to recognise the right of women to study and work in the country. The United Nations has warned that 23 million of Afghanistan’s nearly 40 million people are at risk of famine this winter.

The Taliban’s ban on working women could cost up to $ 1 billion, or 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to a new report. The UN report paints a “frightening” picture of Afghanistan’s economy, which is under “rising inflation” and a “continuing cash crisis”.

Women make up 24 percent of the country’s workforce, and preventing them from working alone could reduce half a billion dollars in domestic consumption alone. The Taliban have told all female government employees to stay home, and only a handful of women have been asked to resume school work in essential tasks such as nursing and elementary school teachers.

According to the Taliban, in the future, a framework based on the Islamic values ​​will be set for women to work and study in Afghanistan, but how and when, is not yet clear. With these restrictions, unemployment in Afghanistan has peaked and the arrival of a cold winter is another major challenge for the people. A large number of men started working on the roads and rigging, except for women, who did not have a job to continue working in.

I know many women who break almonds and four nuts in Kabul, they receive its shell as wages to heat as fuel for their homes and return the insides to the suppliers for money. Many women have started sweeping the streets out of unemployment and poverty, cleaning the streets of the city with their faces covered and burqas at low wages.

One of the main consequences of poverty and unemployment and its negative effects is increasing violence against women, which leads to forced and underage marriages, the absence of a husband to work in neighboring countries and the deprivation of women. Ministry of Women’s Affairs, independent human rights commissions, safe houses, and numerous international, national, and government offices are working to resolve cases of violence against women. But now, with the rise of violence statistics, unfortunately, there is no body to record and process these cases.

Gul Maki is the nickname of a 33-year-old woman. She is mother of 4 children who is a teacher in a school in Mazar-e-Sharif and her husband was an employee of the Department of Women’s Affairs in Balkh province. She said, “We have not received regular and complete amount salary, the house rent and the cold of winter forced us to sell a lot of household items at a very cheap price, but we still could not feed the children.” On a more disturbing note, she continued, “As you know poverty bring violence in each house, one day after a long argument my husband emptied all his knots on me and beat me a lot.”

When she sought justice from the Taliban, they mocked and sexually harassed her. “Many Taliban soldiers who were sitting mockingly asked me to show them my injuries. I told them – you are a Muslim and a non-mahram, so how can I show you my body?” Narrating her shocking ordeal she continued, “The other one pointed to me and said – you are still young and nice, so we have many single and Muslim Mujahideen (soldier). God willing, choose one of them and we will marry you to him. Then I returned home frustrated with my wounded and injured body.

Psychological problems are also prevalent among women grappling with financial insecurities. Studies show that poverty can increase stress disorders in women that affect their lives, work and relationships and increase the risk of depression. How a mother can cope with their children’s hunger? Restricting women breadwinners from not going out without a mahram is one of the great challenges that endangers their own health and their children.

One such woman, named Mitra from Kabul said darkly, “I wish for my death every moment, unless God has closed death on me.” She looks like a young, educated woman. Her dry and tired face and eyes indicate the unspoken and her deep inner pain. An 8-year-old boy is with her and, he discusses the price of food items with Mitra like a grown-up. I sat for a moment following the words of this eloquent and tired lady.

“This is Ahmad my eldest son, he is 8 years old,” she says introducing the little boy to me. “Since his father left, he has been the man of the house and his mother’s helper. Without thinking like other children about toys, etc., he discusses with me about household expenses and negotiating on prices with sellers and shopkeepers,” says Mitra.

“My husband was driver of a car that was transporting ANA food to them and he was martyred in a suicide bombing in Kabul. He was not a soldier. He was an ordinary driver. I now live with Ahmad and two younger girls,” she narrates her woes. “Our salaries have not been paid regularly since the advent of the Taliban. Times are filled with misery and compulsion, sometimes we get tired and give it to this child, sometimes I go to the neighbors’ house to do laundry and cleaning, and sometimes our friends and relatives support me a little,” she says asking, “They (Taliban) have announced a general amnesty that has forgiven us, but what is our sin to be forgiven. Can we forgive them?”

Mitra continues, “I cannot forgive them. Every moment when I cannot provide regular bread and clothes for my children, every moment I look for work in people’s homes and encounter different reactions from that home, I die hundreds of times and come back to life. I hate these people from the bottom of my heart.” She has a thousand questions for the Taliban, “These people are shouting about Islam, but are their deeds Islamic? Where in Islam does it say that it is okay to kill an innocent Muslim? Where is the prohibition of girls from educating in Islam? Where in Islam is it okay to take someone’s sustenance and alimony from them and lead people to poverty and oppression?” She is struggling on many fronts, but is determined to succeed, “I try my best to stay calm and in control, but sometimes I catch my breath to get up and I get short of breath. I get into a fight with myself, become aggressive and violent. In all circumstances, I say again, God, give me strength, I will stand up again and continue.”

After she left, she and her words stayed with me for many days. I thought about how many women are struggling with such difficult conditions and how many are silently dealing with this situation in the country where the field of work for women has become narrower and narrower. How can the international community turn a blind eye to all this, I wonder…

In recent days, the value of the dollar against the Afghani has also risen; an event that directly affects people’s lives and purchasing power. Because the import of most materials is done in dollars.

Finally, it should be noted that ignoring women’s economic work and activity, removing half of the active population from the country, disregards the important principle that achieving economic re-construction and prosperity is not possible without them. Creativity in the economy, which can be created by the meticulous and precise thinking of women, is the best factor in eradicating poverty in Afghan society and contributing to socio-economic development. Also, this creativity is desirable as a factor for the economic maturity of the family in economic management.

The participation of members of society, regardless of gender, is one of the foundations of economic development of countries. The significant presence of women in economic, political, cultural and social planning can be considered as a precondition for development and save society from possible crises.

Due to the economic situation, women in Kabul and other provinces have repeatedly taken to the streets to protest and demand their rights. They chanted slogans such as “Hunger is not a joke”, “Bread, work and freedom”, “Bread for children”, and “Afghans need a piece of bread”, and called for addressing the humanitarian crisis, political and economic participation and women’s freedom of work.

Unfortunately, these protesting women have been responded to with guns, tear gas, lashes, arrests and imprisonment by the Taliban.

Since then, journalists covering the women’s protests were imprisoned and severely punished, women protesters in Balkh province have been arrested and imprisoned by the Taliban, other women from Kabul have been captured by the Taliban overnight and are still missing. Few women dare to leave. They did not do so on the roads, except in houses and basements with half-covered faces, whose identities were not revealed, and they continued their individual and collective protests.

The closure of universities and the denial of access to school for girls above the sixth grade can guarantee a critical situation for women for many years to come, as they pay huge damages for the loss of women in society every day. Women have been forced to settle for the role of mother and wife. Of course, the role of mother or wife is one of the basic and natural roles of women, but women must be able to achieve political, social, cultural and economic participation and be recognized as capable models of society.

Now a days the Afghan women are headline of international news broadcasts, but unfortunately most of funds and international opportunities are closed for Afghan women inside the Afghanistan. We are requesting from all the women outside the Afghanistan and international community, please don’t forget Afghan women and stand with them, raise their voice and be their voice.

*The writer hails from Balkh, Afghanistan, and has secured an MBA degree from SIU, Pune.


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