Afghanistan: Taliban's War on Women
Physicians for Human Rights newsletter, October
The extent to which the Taliban regime has threatened the
freedoms and needs of Afghan women is unparalleled in recent history.
Taliban policies of systematic discrimination against women seriously
undermine the health and well-being of Afghan women.
Enveloped by the shroud-like burqas (a head to toe covering
for women that have only a mesh cloth to see and breathe through)
that they are forced to wear or else face beatings, the women
and girls of Afghanistan are today facing a crisis that threatens
their very survival. Most Afghan women are prohibited by the Taliban
from working, from going to school, from moving anywhere outside
their homes without an immediate male family member as chaperone,
restricted from visiting doctors, hospitals or clinics, and from
collecting humanitarian aid.
Recently, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) carried out an
unprecedented health and human rights study of women under Taliban
rule. The results of 200 interviews were devastating: the vast
majority reported a decline in their physical and mental state
during the past two years of the Taliban's reign. But their deteriorating
mental health was the most disturbing impact of the Taliban's
gross gender discrimination.
A striking example of this discrimination is the Taliban's
insistence that women may only visit a few designated hospitals
in Kabul. PHR received testimony from a young mother who, with
her two-year-old daughter suffering from diarrhea, was turned
away from a "men's only" hospital because of their gender.
The little girl died and the woman spent the night with the child's
body, huddled within the rubble of a bombed building because it
was after curfew. Women who make it to the few facilities designated
for them do not fare much better. The Rabia Balkhi hospital has
no oxygen, clean water, intravenous fluids, medicine, or x-ray
machines. The maternity hospital appeared to offer only beds for
women to lie in - six to seven per room, poor treatment, and no
Even visits to doctors, dentists, and clinics have been severely
restricted. Male doctors are prohibited from seeing any unaccompanied
women. Women doctors have been largely prohibited from working
The source of women's anguish, despair, and poor health is
evident in the streets of Kabul. Women who were administrators,
nurses, and teachers (fired from their jobs because of their gender)
have sold everything they own to feed their children. They now
beg on the streets. Those caught on the street without a close
male relative as -a chaperone or caught revealing an ankle, face,
or wrist, risk being beaten on the spot by fervent religious police
who wander the city brandishing metal cables in search of dress
code violators. Girls over eight may not go to school. Younger
children may attend classes limited to teachings of the Koran.
The city's 30,000 widows are particularly helpless.
A further explanation for the extraordinary high rates of
depression and trauma experienced by Afghan women is the climate
of terror that the Taliban has created in Kabul. Every Friday
night, the regime carries out punishments handed down by courts
devoid of due process. The citizens of Kabul are summoned to the
sports stadium where they watch beheadings, hangings, or amputations
of alleged criminals. Such sights terrify and traumatize women
and their children who have already suffered the loss of family
members, dislocation, landmine injuries, and the mortaring and
shelling of their homes.
and death in Third World