Wave of violence in Afghanistan: “Every woman who can bring change is a target”

The peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government should put an end to decades of war in the country. But since the talks started last year in the Qatari capital, Doha, the number of attacks on Afghan citizens has increased considerably. Women‘s activists and journalists are especially targeted.

Many Afghan women are therefore afraid that their rights for which they have fought so hard will be taken away when the Taliban and Afghan authorities make a deal and rule together. The Taliban have not changed, they still have the same ideology, says women’s activist Rada Akbar. They will again impose the same restrictions on women as when they were in power before.

According to activist Freshta Karim, the position of women in Afghanistan has improved significantly in recent years. The most important thing is that men and women are now equal under the constitution. Women are allowed to go to school and work, we are now visible in all walks of society. This was unthinkable when the strict Islamic Taliban were in charge between 1996 and 2001.

Take away ideals

But since the start of the peace talks, women‘s position has deteriorated and are increasingly targeted. At the beginning of this month, three more female journalists were murdered. Human Rights Watch is also ringing the alarm bell and saying that the targeted killings are meant to drive women out of public life.

Karim sees the situation in her country with a great deal. Our freedoms are being curtailed again, and the problem is that people are increasingly afraid to speak out because of the increasing attacks and targeted killings.

The activist recently came across her name on a Taliban death list circulating on social media. She doesn’t know if the list is real, but it‘s scaring. Every woman who is educated and can bring hope and change is a potential target. They want to take away the ideal that we have – an Afghanistan where everyone is equal – from us.

Although the Taliban often deny anything to do with the attacks, the Afghan government and America blame the group for the recent wave of violence. Investigations and trial often remain out.

Talibanising‘ of education

The Afghan government is also increasingly trying to impose restrictions on women, says Akbar. We are not only in conflict with the Taliban, but also with our own government. Last week, the Afghan Ministry of Education issued a singing ban for girls from 12 years old.

According to Ahmad Sarmast, founder of the National Music Institute in Kabul, this could be an attempt to ‘Talibanise‘ the education system. Sarmast points out that the Taliban banned music and girls’ education when they were in power. He himself was injured in a Taliban attack in 2014. A suicide bomber blew himself right behind him during a concert in Kabul.

The ban on singing clearly shows that some politicians in the Afghan government are trying to pave the way for the Taliban, says Sarmast. Since the peace talks, a lot of politics has changed. Some people like to see the Taliban rejoin and try to secure a place for themselves in the event of a deal. This ban can therefore be seen as a test to see if Afghan society is prepared to take a step back.

But the Afghans are certainly not. Women‘s activists – and, in fact, everyone who is against the strict Islamic Taliban – rose massively through an online protest campaign, initiated by Sarmast. Under the hashtag #IamMSong, women and girls posted social media videos singing their favorite songs.

The ban was reversed and the Afghan government is now talking about a misunderstanding. But it’s not the only example. A few months ago, the Ministry of Education decided to teach all primary school students in the mosque again. That decision, too, came up with great resistance and was eventually repealed.

Peace talks

Yet activist Karim believes in the peace talks. Talking is the only way to achieve peace, but it needs to be more about vulnerable groups. The activists all stress the importance of more women participating in the peace negotiations.

The Afghan Government has included four women in the negotiating team of 21 members, not one of the Taliban. Karim: We need to have a stronger voice in the negotiations to guarantee our rights. Until this happens, Afghan women fear for their future and fear that a new civil war will not be ruled out.