Julie Richman mug - new Oct. 2022 - for Tribune column

Julie Richman

Fifteen months ago, the Taliban invaded Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. President Ghani and the existing government were overthrown and the Taliban took control. Thousands of Afghani citizens fled in an attempt to escape the violence and upheaval as the Taliban swept through the country. The Taliban gained control of the border and the Karzai International Airport became the primary escape route for refugees.

Airlifts coordinated by the United States and its allies evacuated approximately 125,000 Afghanis. Ultimately, more than 1.5 million refugees went to Pakistan, 775,000 to Iran, 200,000 to Germany and nearly 150,000 to Turkey. In addition, France, Austria, Greece, Sweden, Italy and Switzerland took in tens of thousands of people. More than 75,000 refugees came to the U.S.

Once the Taliban controlled Kabul, they immediately put restrictive laws in place that affected every facet of life for girls and women. Women were required to stay in their homes unless it was essential for them to leave. In public, women had to cover their bodies including their faces. Girls could not attend school and women were prohibited from holding jobs. To illustrate this drastic change, one can compare this with statistics from 2009, when approximately 77,000 professional positions were held by women. Women earned incomes and actively participated in society as judges, attorneys, journalists, professors, and politicians.

In 2021, the Taliban decreed that women could no longer access routine kinds of medical care for themselves or their children without a male chaperone. Additionally, since female caregivers such as physicians and midwives were not permitted to work, there were fewer health professionals. Women’s health declined, miscarriage rates increased, and nearly half of newborns did not survive. With little influence and authority in society, violence against girls and women rose dramatically. The Taliban continued to impose laws to exclude women from all facets of political and public life.

In September, Dr. Nina Ansary spoke about the history and status of women in Afghanistan at Colorado College at the invitation of the Colorado Springs World Affairs Council. Ansary is an Iranian-American historian, author, and women’s rights activist. She is widely recognized as an expert on the political, economic, and cultural changes in Iran and Afghanistan and speaks to human rights organizations, news outlets, and groups involved in the status of women worldwide. After coming to the U.S. as an Iranian refugee in 1978, she received a bachelor’s degree at Barnard College and a master’s and doctorate from Columbia University. Her perspective is both political and personal.

Ansary shared historical events in Afghanistan which have shaped the lives of girls and women, then she spoke about current conditions in the country. The reality is bleak and getting worse by the day under Taliban rule. With widespread poverty and starvation, the number of young girls who have been married off to older men continues to increase. A dowry is paid for girls as young as 11 which provides money for food so the family can survive. Ansary stated that approximately 24 million people in Afghanistan need basic assistance to stay alive, and half of these are children. 95% of the population doesn’t have enough food.

Ansary relies on information from colleagues, friends and networks of people throughout Afghanistan who contact her every day through satellite phones, texts and photos. She ignores mainstream news because she doubts its accuracy and credibility. She is appalled by the constraints imposed by the Taliban and urges Americans to apply pressure to political leaders to intervene. Yet, despite the horrors that continue every day in Afghanistan, Ansary is hopeful.

“What I hear from women is awe-inspiring because they are determined to create ways for girls to gain skills and education.” Ansary is in touch with women in their early 20s who are secretly teaching groups of girls. They meet in rural villages, abandoned buildings, homes, or wherever a space can be used as a mini-classroom. After studying, they travel home in pairs and vary their routes or change their clothes to disguise themselves as men. If they are caught, they will be punished or killed by the Taliban.

Ansary hears from women who say, “the Taliban can try to break us, but we’ll never stop fighting.” From her viewpoint, Afghani women are using every available means to gain an education and a foothold in society.

Lastly, Ansary urges each of us to pay attention and take some type of action, no matter how small. Read about the issues. Learn about the situation facing women in Afghanistan. Discuss the inequities, injustices, and the plight of Afghani girls and women. Raise awareness through social media. Speak up and keep pressure on American officials and human rights organizations. That’s the least we can do.

Julie Richman is a freelance writer, project manager and consultant. She and her family have lived in Colorado Springs for 23 years. Contact Julie with comments or ideas for her column at jdrichman6845@msn.com.

Load comments