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Monday, March 8, 1999 Published at 12:05 GMT

World: South Asia

Women and the Taleban

Afghan women are bound by strict interpretation of Islam

By Kabul Correspondent William Reeve

The policies imposed by the Taleban mean that as a foreign, male, correspondent in Afghanistan I am not able to speak to Afghan women in areas they control.

But when I visit areas controlled by the anti-Taleban alliance, the position for women seems very much the same.

[ image: Hillary Clinton - one of the latest to voice support for women of Kabul]
Hillary Clinton - one of the latest to voice support for women of Kabul
Here too, every women is covered from head to toe in the all-enveloping burka, known in Afghanistan as the chardari.

Throughout this conservative Islamic country, Afghan women today carry on very much as most of them have for centuries.

The difference in non-Taleban areas is that women are not prevented from working, and girls are not stopped from going to school.

It is just that very few women do work away from their homes, and only a very small percentage of girls are educated there.

But in a world where equal freedom for women is now enshrined as a fundamental human right, Afghanistan falls far short, especially in Taleban areas.

Taleban promise improvement

The Taleban argue that all their edicts on women are based on Islamic law, and that that they uphold women's dignity.

They say that when fighting does eventually stop in Afghanistan, women will be allowed to work, albeit under Islamic guidelines, and girls go to school.

The outside world is not convinced, and almost all countries have failed to recognise the Taleban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan mainly for that very reason.

Beyond the Taleban's insistence that all the edicts on women are based on Islam lays a further more pressing point.

It has to do with maintaining power in Afghanistan. Most of the Taleban's most stalwart supporters come from areas of the country where women have always been treated in this way.

Afghan women's rights turn full circle

Taleban leaders argue that they would lose support if they softened their approach. At least one Afghan leader this earlier century, King Amanullah, fell from power because he tried to emancipate women.

And it wasn't until 1959, during the reign of King Zahir Shah, that the emancipation of women really began. Zahir Shah's policy was that it was up to families themselves to decide how much freedom their women should enjoy.

While life in the countryside has changed little in the meantime, in urban areas women began to take off their veils, go to university and take part in public life.

And during the Soviet occupation, women were given their greatest freedom ever in Afghanistan.

The tables turned with the fall of Dr Najibullah's Moscow-supported government in 1992, and the coming to power of the former Islamic freedom fighters, the mujaheddin.

The position turned full circle with the seizure of the capital, Kabul, by the Taleban in 1996.

While many Afghans appreciate the law and order that the Taleban has imposed on most of Afghanistan, many also strongly resent the prohibition of education for girls. They argue that Islam decrees equal rights of education for both sexes.

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Internet Links

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