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For Women in Afghanistan, March 8 Is a Reminder for Resistance

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – Less than three years ago, March 8, was a busy day in Afghanistan’s calendar. The country celebrated with the rest of the world the International Women’s Day. TV channels aired special programs, the government organized large events where high-ranking officials often spoke empty words, and the social media was filled with messages.

Today, not only March 8 is not celebrated, but even women for whom the day is dedicated are not recognized. For the women of Afghanistan, March 8 is a painful reminder of what they have lost since the Taliban’s return to power.

Women groups in the capital Kabul and other provinces staged indoor rallies, criticizing the UN and the international community for their interaction.

They are skeptical that the world is not doing enough to protect the human rights of women and girls in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

The world, mostly western countries, say they do whatever in their power to pressure the Taliban to respect women’s rights.

In an indoor gathering on Friday, March 8, members of the “Afghanistan Women’s Movement for Justice and Freedom” emphasized that they will continue to take decisive stands against Taliban restrictions and injustices, even at the cost of their lives.

“Afghan women have gained an understanding of their rights and are determined not to stay silent in the face of oppression and rights violations,” they emphasized.

Perhaps, that is where distrust comes from. The women of Afghanistan have put the fiercest opposition to the Taliban, often putting their lives on the line. They have braved detention, torture, including rape to at least not leave the Taliban unchallenged.

The outside world, on the contrary, have hardly put even their words on the line. Widespread calls for the recognition of Taliban’s persecution of women as an apartheid regime based on gender have received no welcoming ear in the diplomatic community.

Although international human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Afghanistan concur, no major country has come forward calling the Taliban a gender apartheid.

The women protesting earlier today called on the UN and the world community to recognize gender apartheid as crimes against humanity, which will allow the investigation and prosecution of the Taliban regime under the Rome Statute.

The UN is due to review its relevant conventions for apartheid and other international crimes in the coming months. The Women in Afghanistan and rights groups argue that it is a historic opportunity to codify gender apartheid as an international crime against humanity.

That, however, requires support from major stakeholders in the UN system, none of which appear willing to risk too much in their engagement with the regime in Kabul. Many of them send millions of dollars every month to fund humanitarian aid in the starving country, which critics say also help the Taliban fend public pressure off more effectively.

In a statement on March 8, another women’s rights group, the “Purple Saturdays Movement,” said that the international community, particularly the US, has sustained the Taliban in power, contradicting human rights principles and declared policies. According to the movement, the international community, through both overt and covert political and economic support, including financial aid, is prolonging the lifespan of the Taliban government.

Stuck behind the dark walls that enclose them, the women in Afghanistan refuse to give up. Large protests have mostly disappeared from the streets after consecutive episodes of detention, torture, and forced disappearance. But their voices are still loud and clear. From unknown locations, they send videos of indoor rallies to the media, produce resistance music, and talk to the outside world. Activists who have left since the takeover have been shuttling from one meeting room to another, hoping that someone, somewhere, will take action to assist them. 

Yet, the Taliban has been relentless in its expansion of restrictions against women. Only in recent months, they have arrested tens of them on bogus charges of violating the regime’s dress code. In eastern Afghanistan, the group has barred local radio stations from receiving phone calls from female audiences. The notorious intelligence arm of the regime has warned of potential complete erasure of women from the media scene (some women still host TV programs while fully covering their faces.)

In the face of such terror and persecution, it is hard not to see the logic of women’s anger over a world that has largely remained silent in action. 

Another group that demonstrated this Friday, Women’s Movement Towards Freedom, which was formed in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover, said  that while the world celebrates women’s   achievements, Afghan women face complete gender apartheid under Taliban rule.

“The mono-ethnic and mono-gender government of the Taliban, the foremost violators of human rights, should not be granted a place in the United Nations, the preeminent defender of human rights, nor should the UN engage with them.”