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US-Taliban Deal: Can Afghan Women Trust Taliban?

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By Saleem Rashid and Arifa Banu

After 18 years of erratic negotiations between the US and Taliban, a deal was signed in Doha, which is expected to bring peace in war-torn Afghanistan. The world is talking about the possibilities in which it can ensure global peace and stability and reduce tension in the subcontinent. But what we are missing out predominantly are the Afghan women. Half of the composition of the Afghan population comprises of women and girls. Citizens below the age of 25 are estimated to be 64%.

Afghan women deserved to be at the forefront of the negotiating table at Doha, to protect and ensure their rights. Image source: Getty

In 18 years of this protracted conflict, Afghan women have faced the brunt and suffered the most. Afghan women deserved to be at the forefront of the negotiating table at Doha, to protect and ensure their rights. Their participation was elemental for the peace treaty to succeed. They should have been allowed to protect the civil liberties they had won since 2001.

If the world has grasped anything from wars of the past century, it is that peace deals must be inclusive to stick. History is witness that women and minorities stand to lose the most from any negotiation made behind closed doors and by a room full of men.

After the Taliban takeover of Herat in 1995, the UN was hopeful that gender policies would become more ‘moderate’ as it matured from a popular uprising into a responsible government with linkages to the donor community. The Taliban refused to give in to international pressure and reacted stoically to aid suspensions.

While in power, the Taliban became notorious internationally for their sexism, complete denial of fundamental rights, and violence against women. This wave of extremely puritanical laws dehumanising Afghan women was done to provide them with a secure environment, thereby protecting their ‘chastity and dignity’. All these measures and restrictions were imposed to convey that they were actually a way of revering and protecting the opposite sex. The behaviour of the Taliban during the six years of their rule from 1996-2001 made a mockery of that claim.

In this extreme case of seclusion mostly referred to as gender apartheid, women were not allowed to work, they were not granted the right to be educated after the age of eight, and until then, were permitted only to study the Quran. The Taliban governance regarding the civic liberties placed severe restrictions on a woman’s freedom of movement and created difficulties for those who could not afford a burqa or didn’t have any Mahram.

These women faced what we can call a house arrest. A woman who was badly beaten by the Taliban for walking the streets alone stated her helplessness at having no other option but to go out alone. Her father was killed in a battle, didn’t have a husband or any other male relatives. They faced public flogging and execution for violations of the Taliban’s laws. Girls under the age of 16 were forced to marry under the Taliban.

Amnesty International reported that 80% of Afghan women were forced into marriages. The lives of rural women were less badly affected as they generally lived and worked within secure environments. A relative level of freedom was necessary for them to continue with their chores or labour. If these women travelled to a nearby town, the same urban restrictions would have applied to them. The ephemeral fight of the women of Afghanistan has always been at loggerheads with the draconian laws of the Taliban.

Girls under the age of 16 were forced to marry under the Taliban. Image source: Getty

Considering their Islamic duties, the Taliban had extended the right to education to both boys and girls; however, girls above the age of eight were prohibited from exercising their right to education. A wide gulf emerged between the literacy rates among males and females in Afghanistan as compared to other South Asian countries.

A meagre 15% of Afghan women can read and write as per the UNICEF statistics. On September 30, 1996, the Taliban decreed a ban on female employment. The overall economy of Afghanistan suffered a great blow with this draconian law. Apart from the banning women from the educational sector, they were also barred from health and public sectors. The impact in the educational sector resulted in a steep drop in elementary education. The health sector of Afghanistan suffered, too, as female patients did not have the recourse to women doctors.

Also, prohibiting them from being operated or treated by male doctors. In the capital itself, the affects were widespread among the 64% of the population which comprises the youth. The ruling affected 106,256 girls, 148,223 male students, and 8,000 female university undergraduates. 7,793 female teachers were dismissed, a move that crippled the provision of education and caused 63 schools to close due to a sudden lack of educators.

On 29th February, the US and Taliban signed a peace treaty, which many analysts regard as America’s fatigue in Afghanistan and Trump’s anxiety to fulfil his electoral promises. However, for a peace treaty to succeed, it should ensure the protection of human and civil rights, including freedom of speech, education, and access to standard healthcare.

The peace treaty did not have any representation of women even when they constitute 64% of the total Afghan population. Mary Akrami, the founder of the Afghan Women Skills Developmental Centre, remarked that Afghan women have been working to build peace for decades. “We have spent years fighting for basic rights and over the past years, for a seat at the table in talks between the US and the Taliban. We are not reassured by the agreement signed by US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban’s Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, or by the process that led up to it,” she said.

Article 22 of the Constitution of Afghanistan, decrees that “Any kind of discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan shall be forbidden. The citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law.” Women of Afghanistan are only demanding and reaffirming what the constitution has already guaranteed them.

The Taliban leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani suggested in a New York Times op-ed, that the issue of women being guaranteed these rights would be resolved through consensus among Afghans, doing away with what the constitution already promises. How can the Afghan women trust the Taliban to treat them equally, when the lead negotiator of the deal has refused them a seat on the table?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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