Adverts depicting women in wedding dresses are being painted over. Everywhere, the now mandatory burqa is returning from its cupboard, its market price hiking up tenfold. As the Taliban descends on Afghanistan, so does the threat to female liberation. The Taliban’s treatment of women was notorious twenty years ago: an Amnesty International report details that 80% of marriages were forced, the burqa was mandatory in public spaces and women were prohibited from education after the age of eight.
Following the 2001 international intervention, progress has been made. 2009 saw Afghanistan adopt the Elimination of Violence Against Women law, and American and British occupation saw a growth in the number of women entering education. All, however, has not been easy and light. An estimated 3.7 million children do not attend school, 60% of which are female, and longstanding socio-economic barriers have ensured that widespread access to education has been limited. With the Taliban takeover almost ensured, additional barriers are likely to be enforced: there are reports of women burning their degree certificates in Kabul.
It is easy to forget that before the 1979 Soviet invasion, women wore miniskirts and attended university. There is a history of progress that we must not erase in Western retelling. Today, there is at least a theoretically educated foot on the ladder that may prove strong enough to provide some underground learning.
And, perhaps more importantly, there is the international eye. A spokesperson for the Taliban told the BBC that they will “remain respectful of the rights of women”, and that their policies will ensure women “will have access to education and work”. It is, of course, far too early to tell what this looks like in practice; reports from Saturday show women being forced from their positions at work and out of university in fallen provinces.
It is easy to assume how this blackout will look and, crucially, to dismiss it: to resign ourselves to a future where we pity and sympathise with a population we feel we cannot help whilst history repeats itself, and to share videos on social media without putting any real action behind it.
This does not have to be the case. Charities such as the International Rescue Committee, Afghan Aid and Afghan Women for Women are active and practising and need our support. Closer to home, at the very least, we can reach out to Afghan communities. We can counter thoughtless comments about the Muslim population, and remind ourselves of the dangers that this invasion poses, not just to the Afghan people but internationally.
We can then call on our politicians to provide aid and protection to the Afghans who acted as translators for the British, to charter evacuation flights for the activists (male and female) next on the Taliban’s hit list, and then turn to charities such as Choose Love and Amnesty International for ways in which we can support refugees.
As the Taliban erase the female image, we can remember. We can act, using our political voices to advocate for the women who may soon have only the recollection of their former liberation.
Image: DVIDSHUB via Flickr