The years when March 8 was the day of high-sounding parties -without discussing the nature, meaning and background of such a day in depth- in luxury hotels in Kabul and other big cities of Afghanistan have passed. The years have passed when women constituted more than 25% of Parliament members, but even the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) was not passed. The years have gone when the most famous and powerful women in the world, from Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel to many other famous and influential women, were visiting Kabul and talking about the world’s support for women, promising they would never leave Afghan women behind. The years have passed when a woman, for years, was the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), many women were ministers and heads, had their own businesses, were university professors, and were managing dozens of governmental and non-governmental institutions.
Considering Afghanistan today, all these things Afghan women had two years ago seem so far-reaching and nostalgic, as if we are talking about very distant years or a country other than Afghanistan. But the reality is as black as the Taliban’s turbans and as rough and scary as their faces. Is such a retrogression possible? Is it possible for a nation to retrogress this much in two years? Though unpleasant, the answer to this question is “yes.” Yes, it is possible. When changes are not fundamental and profound, when actions are taken on the surface and the basic issues remain untouched, it is possible, yes.
In the past, Afghanistan repeatedly witnessed such dramatic changes. Habibullah Kalakani abolished everything Amanullah Khan’s government had given to women by issuing a single decree. It took years until women returned to the social arena again in the Decade of Democracy (1963-1973). From that era until the end of Dr. Najibullah’s rule (1992), women gradually expanded their presence in society, with little ups and downs, and were even promoted to the top levels of the armed forces. But with the Mujahideen takeover in Afghanistan, women were once again removed from all the social arenas, and all women were worried about was how to protect their honor and human dignity from the victorious Mujahideen.
When the international forces entered Afghanistan and defeated the Taliban, Afghan women returned to society again. This time, they were present everywhere in society, from art to public services and from jurisdiction to the armed forces. Their presence in society was quantitatively more than at any other time. They were almost equal to men in any field, both quantitatively and qualitatively. But a political change was enough for a mawlawi to come and, by issuing some decrees, kick them out of workplaces, university classes, bakeries, and public baths, depriving them of all their human rights.
Women have not, however, accepted this removal yet. With the countless sacrifices they have made and despite the indescribable repression by the Taliban, they have raised their voices, using every opportunity. They have propounded their demands very openly and clearly, saying repeatedly they want Nan, Kar, Azadi (bread, work, freedom) and won’t give up on it. During these two years, Afghan women have always addressed the international community. They have always asked the international community for help. Why do Afghan women only ask the international community for help, indeed? The painful answer to this question is: because Afghan women know their society and are disappointed in it. An Afghan woman knows that the Taliban’s way of thinking did not come with the Taliban; but, rather, with the arrival of the Taliban, this way of thinking took over the decision-making, executive, and legal apparatus. The way of thinking itself is more or less rooted in and supported by every home in Afghanistan.
In the years when the Taliban were not in power, too, the courts were overbusy with domestic violence cases. In the years when the Taliban had not yet taken over Afghanistan, there were women’s shelters in Kabul. Who did these shelters protect vulnerable women from? From the Taliban? No, from men. The men who, during the day, might work in the AIHRC, in the Afghan judicial system, but at home, they would not recognize any of Afghanistan’s laws and human rights values, committing violence against their wives and daughters.
The Afghan society should now ask itself why, in the last hundred years, from the Amanullah Khan era until now, it has not been able to profoundly damage the system of false traditions that do not consider women as human beings. The question gets more serious when we see that in the relatively more developed or at least more literate society of Iran, enjoying political stability and peace for years, women’s clothing is still an issue and hundreds of people are getting killed to make women’s clothing optional, but the problem can not be solved.
The fact is that stable and profound changes in society come only when people’s way of thinking is changed by continuous cultural activities and this change of way of thinking is reflected in social norms. In the last 20 years, or in the last hundred years, if there was a cultural attitude towards the issue of power and politics; if the struggle for gender equality was not only limited to only the day of March 8; if the March 8 was not celebrated in its ridiculous form, by gathering in the luxury hotels or by giving flowers to the female employees in the workplaces; it was possible to make this stable and profound change.
Looking from this point of view, one can understand the depth of the difficulty of women’s issues and lives in the societies like Afghanistan and can search for a more fundamental and serious solution. In order to achieve this serious solution, it is, firstly, necessary that at least those men and women who believe in gender equality, admit what is now happening to Afghan women as a great shame and understand that it is not possible to reach a humane society with superficial changes and commercial approaches high-sounding events. Sometimes the silence or the bewailment of the international community regarding the situation of women may make us angry, but the fact is that the world speechlessly says it is not capable of doing any great and serious work in Afghanistan. Until the Afghan society, especially most men don’t turn to rational thinking, critical reviewing of their thoughts, and looking scientifically and logically at themselves, their families, and their lives, the world can do nothing.
The harsher reality is that there is no shortcut way. The world has already done its part by sanctioning the Taliban and avoiding legitimizing them. But it is the Afghan society that still has women lobbying for the Taliban. It is the prominent and important leaders of the Afghan society whose main concern is to be included in the Taliban cabinet, not women’s rights and dignity.
The only ray of hope in this all-encompassing darkness is the awareness of women, who are not few in number. After all the repression and terror, women’s presence on the streets dominated by the Taliban on the eve of March 8, 2023, clearly conveyed the message that the Afghan women’s determination for achieving their humane and rightful goals was serious.
The self-awareness and faith that have given Afghan women the courage to stand up for their rights in the last two years under the Taliban is the exact way to free Afghanistan and Afghan women. Along with this self-awareness and resistance, if there would be more coordination, and better unison and planning between protesting women inside Afghanistan and women living outside the country, with more opportunities to reflect women’s voices and demands, Afghan women will succeed in freeing their fate from the clutches of patriarchal politics and culture. In this way, they will save both themselves and the Afghan men from the compound ignorance they have been trapped in for centuries. Provided that men who believe in equality and the human dignity of women stand by them in this tough struggle. And this will happen when women continue to carry the banner of freedom and equality as they did in the past two years.