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Shrinking public space for Afghan women as Taliban expand borders | Human Rights News

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Kabul, Afghanistan – As a 35-year-old university professor, Nazifa regularly used the local van, a popular means of transport in the Afghan capital, Kabul, for his daily journeys between home and university and back. As a city native, she was very familiar with the highways, streets, and alleys, and rarely felt uncomfortable traveling alone.

That was until last week when the van in which Nazifa, who asked for his name to be changed, was traveling was stopped by a Taliban guard.

“I was on my way home with another colleague when a Taliban stopped our vehicle and asked us where our mahram was. [male guardian] has been. When we told him we didn’t have any, he was furious,” she told Al Jazeera.

“He arranged for the driver to drop us off where we had been chosen, ordering him not to pick up female passengers without mahrams. We had to walk for half an hour through the checkpoint before we could find another taxi that could take us home,” she said.

“I felt very hopeless and sad that day,” Nazifa said. “Since then, I feel so scared when I go to work. I’m so scared that they will arrest me again and punish me. It’s so humiliating to be considered so useless in his own homeland,” she said as she broke down.

Reminiscent of their last diet in the 1990s

Since taking control of Afghanistan last year, Taliban leaders have reintroduced draconian restrictions on freedoms and movement, especially against women, reminiscent of their last rule in the 1990s .

However, increasingly in recent weeks, Taliban leaders, including from their Ministry of Propagating Virtue and Preventing Vice, have announced numerous new restrictions, even as criticism and international pressure rise against them.

I am both father and mother to my daughters. I am the man and the woman of my house. I have to go out to take care of my family. Where can I get a mahram from?

by Gulalai, an Afghan woman

In December, the ministry, which replaced Afghanistan’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs, imposed restrictions on women traveling more than 72 km (45 miles) without a close male relative. This restriction was extended last week to include overseas travel, and several women traveling alone are said to have been stopped from boarding flights. Similar bans have also been introduced in several health centers across the country, prohibiting women from accessing care without a mahram.

However, although there are no specific restrictions for women traveling in the city, the Taliban reportedly educated local taxi drivers in Afghan cities against picking up unaccompanied female passengers or if they do not wear a proper hijab or headscarf, as defined by the Taliban. They frequently arrest women traveling alone and punish the taxi drivers who transport them.

Sadeq Akif Muhajir, spokesman for the Taliban ministry, defended the restriction in local media, saying it was “not about limitations for women, but for the protection of their honour”.

However, many Afghan women disagree. “It is not possible for me to have mahram; my husband cannot go to work with me every day,” Nazifa explained.

She asked if the intention of the Taliban was to discourage women from going to work “given the restrictions they continue to impose, I am afraid that they will eventually not let women go to work without a mahram, because having a mahram at work is not possible,” she said. .

“A long series of broken promises”

A number of other decrees issued in recent weeks targeting women have ordered the wearing of the hijab for women in the workplace, gender segregation in public parks and the continued closure of girls’ high schools. which sparked protests from Afghan women and aroused strong international mobilization. critical.

The Taliban had briefly reopened schools for girls on March 23, after months of relentless pressure. However, the celebrations were short-lived as they were immediately closed without any explanation.

“We were sitting in the classroom when two Taliban members came in and asked us, ‘With whose permission did you enter the schools?’ They were carrying weapons and asked us to leave,” said Sara, 15, disappointment in her voice.

That night she fell asleep crying, her sister said. “That’s all I’ve been praying for for the past seven months, so I can go back to school and continue my education to achieve my dreams,” Sara said, adding that she wants to be a judge when she’s older. – a profession that the Taliban consider inappropriate for women. “Maybe they’re afraid of educated women,” she said.

Describing the growing restrictions as “a long series of broken promises”, Heather Barr, associate director at Human Rights Watch, called on the international community to increase pressure on the Taliban.

“But this flurry appears to signal an escalation in attacks on women’s rights. More broadly, the Taliban appear to have stopped pretending to appease donors in hopes of securing aid and recognition,” she said in a recent HRW statement.

The situation is more difficult for female-headed households like Gulalai, a 50-year-old widow, who also requested that her name be changed to protect her identity. On March 23, the mother of two young girls was returning from the market when her taxi was stopped by the Taliban who questioned her about the mahram.

“I was so scared that they would drag me out of the vehicle, or maybe the driver. Before I could respond though, a nice older man in the front seat stepped in and pretended to be my mahram , and that’s when they let me go,” she recalls.

Gulalai’s experience has left her scared and frustrated, especially for the safety of her daughters whom she has raised alone since losing her husband 14 years ago.

Afghan women and girls take part in a protest outside the Ministry of Education in Kabul on March 26 to demand the reopening of high schools for girls [File: Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP]

“I am both father and mother to my daughters. I am the man and the woman of my house. I have to go out to take care of my family. Where can I get a mahram from? ” she says.

“Afghanistan has many widows and not everyone has a mahram,” Gulalai said, raising a disturbing but important truth about the country that has seen 40 years of war, starting with the Russian invasion in 1979. , followed by two decades of American occupation until the end. August.

The country is reeling from a humanitarian crisis with more than half of the population facing hunger. The Taliban have struggled to revive the aid-dependent economy, which is in freefall due to sanctions and exclusion from international financial institutions.

“For us, zamin sakht, wa asmaan door ast,” she said, quoting an old Afghan proverb that translates to “the earth is hard and the sky is high,” illustrating the challenges women face Afghans.