As a U.S. woman who becomes easily frustrated over equal pay for equal work issues and other gender tensions in the workplace, it’s difficult for me to imagine a society in which women are denied even the most basic freedoms. Many parts of the world are like this; however, and women living in Afghanistan are victims of some of the worst gender inequality.
Most Afghanistan citizens are Islamic, a religion that asserts that men and women are equal in God’s eyes. At the time of Islam’s inception, the religion was considered to be progressive, allowing women to divorce, own property, and vote. During the Taliban’s rise in the 1990s, however, rules were manipulated to deny women rights in a most extreme way.
Under Taliban rule, women are virtually invisible in society: they are forbidden to hold jobs, leave home without a male escort, see a male doctor, or attend school. Women are required to wear burqas, covering themselves from head to toe with only a small opening for the eyes, although some women cover their eyes as well. Women who enjoyed basic freedoms before the Taliban rule—women who were doctors, teachers, or students, for example—were forced to leave their occupations or leave school. The Taliban government has caused many women to be forced to marry against their will and suffer public beatings for non-compliance with the government’s many unfair laws.
Since the fall of the Taliban in 2002, Afghani women in many areas are enjoying more rights and thousands of organizations fight for better conditions for these women. Afghani women now go to school and hold jobs, but conditions are still desperate in many areas. On March 8, 2010, for example, which is International Women’s Day, one woman was beaten in public for eloping and another was trapped in a bag with a cat. Countless other women immolate themselves, setting themselves on fire, as a result of frequent abuse.
Although the Afghani government has taken legal action to protect women, most of these crimes still go unresolved. Women who fight for their own rights are often punished, as in the case of a group of Afghani men who sprayed acid on the fifteen girls’ faces for attending school.