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Women and Afghanistan Continued

September 27, 2001

The subjugation of women in extremist Islamic states like Afghanistan is carried out in the name of Islam, but itdoes not have much basis in the religion itself. In fact, when the religion of Islam was founded in the 7th century,it guaranteed women status in society, and offered them property and inheritance rights.

The Islamic woman’s body has become a battleground for religion, history, local culture and global politics. But theTaliban is hardly unique in its harsh treatment of women. In Saudi Arabia, one of the US’s staunchest allies, womenare not allowed to drive cars. They can’t rent hotel rooms. They can’t eat in a public place.

Until conflicts tore Afghanistan apart, the country’s constitution guaranteed basic rights to women and many devoutMuslim women participated in public life. Half of the university students were women, and women made up 40 percent ofthe nation’s doctors and 70 percent of its teachers. Women wore Islamic scarves covering their heads and longdresses, rather than the all-encompassing burqa.

But when the loose group of Islamic militants called the mujahedin came to power in 1992, they suspended theconstitution and imposed their extreme religious doctrines on the country. As the factions of the mujahedin battledeach other for political supremacy, Afghan women lived under appalling conditions. They were regularly raped,abducted, sold into prostitution or killed.

The fundamentalist Taliban — many of whom were actually from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan — came to power in 1996 inpart because they promised to put an end to the chaos and anarchy. And the Taliban did halt the widespread rape andviolence against the country’s women. Unfortunately, they achieved this by essentially effacing women from societyaltogether, cloistering them behind the walls of their homes and underneath the veil.


  • Fahima, grassroots Afghan activist, member of Afghan Solidarity.
  • Nazi Etemadi , Afghan Women’s Association of Southern California.

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