FaithWorld

Q+A: Women’s rights in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban

(Afghan men and women teachers attend their graduation ceremony in Kabul March 30, 2011/Omar Sobhani)

Women have won hard-fought rights in Afghanistan since the austere rule of the Taliban was ended by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001. But gains made in areas such as education, work and even dress code look shaky as the government plans peace talks that include negotiating with the Taliban.

Reuters Kabul has produced a Q+A to accompany the feature How will Afghan women fare in Taliban reconciliation? by Amie Ferris-Rotman. Click here to read it in full.

Below are the headings for the questions and answers about women’s rights in Afghanistan today.

HOW BAD WAS IT FOR WOMEN UNDER TALIBAN RULE?

Rights groups and Western governments described the situation as one of the worst that the world had encountered for women at that time.

How will Afghan women fare if Kabul and the Taliban reconcile?

(Schoolgirls listen to a speech by Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a ceremony marking the start of the school year at Amani High School in Kabul March 23, 2011/Omar Sobhani)

The gaggles of giggling schoolgirls in their black uniforms and flowing white hijabs seen across Afghanistan’s cities have become symbolic of how far women’s rights have come since the austere rule of the Taliban was toppled a decade ago. While women have gained back basic rights in education, voting and work, considered un-Islamic by the Taliban, their plight remains severe and future uncertain as Afghan leaders seek to negotiate with the Taliban as part of their peace talks.

The United States and NATO, who have been fighting Taliban insurgents for 10 years in an increasingly unpopular war, have repeatedly stressed that any peace talks must abide by Afghanistan’s constitution, which says the two sexes are equal. But President Hamid Karzai’s reticence on the matter, constant opposition by the Taliban, and setbacks even at the government level cast a shadow on the prospects of equality for the 15 million women who make up about half the population.

In Kabul’s only synagogue, Afghan merchants open up shop

(An Afghan woman clad in burqa and her daughter walks past a restaurant built inside part of the only synagogue building in Kabul, June 1, 2011/Omar Sobhani)

A lattice of corrugated iron Star of Davids marks Afghanistan’s only working synagogue, a white-washed, two-storey building tucked into a sidestreet in the centre of Kabul. Kebabs, carpets and flowers are served and sold on the ground floor of the synagogue, which has been transformed into businesses over the last 18 months by the country’s sole remaining Jew, who lives upstairs in a small pink room.

Cafe manager Sayed Ahmad is unfazed by his small cafe’s history, where Kabul’s hundreds-strong Jewish community once gathered for prayers. Most fled to Israel and the United States amid the Soviet invasion of 1979. “Some of my customers know this is the synagogue and know about the Jew upstairs, but they don’t care and neither do I,” Ahmad told Reuters in his cafe, where bearded men on purple cushions puff on water pipes and eat traditional Afghan food.

Anti-Western messages grow among Afghanistan’s imams

hazrat ali mosque

(Hazrat Ali mosque in Kabul March 21, 2010/Ahmad Masood)

Enayatullah Balegh is a professor at Kabul University and preaches on Fridays in the largest mosque in central Kabul, where he advocates jihad, or holy war, against foreigners who desecrate Islam. After a fundamentalist U.S. pastor presided over the burning of a copy of the Koran last month, there has been a growing perception among ordinary people that many of the foreigners in Afghanistan belong in just one category: the infidels.

“The international community and the American government is responsible for this gravest insult to Muslims,” Balegh told Reuters in the blue-and-white tiled Hazrat Ali mosque. “I tell my students to wage jihad against all foreigners who desecrate our religious values. We have had enough.”

Protests in Kabul against the Koran-burning have not become violent but there are many other mullahs in the overcrowded capital whose sermons are filled with criticism of the foreigners fighting and working in Afghanistan.

Wary Afghans mull possible Taliban peace talks

talibanLike many Afghans, shopkeeper Abdul Sattar recalls Taliban rule as a nightmare of public executions, women shut away at home and evenings without TV, but he might accept some of it back for peace and stability.

With President Hamid Karzai reaching out to insurgents in a bid to broker peace talks, the Kabul businessman says he would support a deal returning Afghanistan’s former hardline rulers to some measure of power if it brought an end to 10 years of war. (Photo: Taliban militants after joining a government reconciliation and reintegration program, in Herat, March 14, 2010/Mohammad Shioab)

“The Taliban had some good rules and some bad rules,” Sattar said at his stationery shop. “If the government talks to the Taliban and they accept just the good ones, then it could work.”

President Karzai votes for female Hindu candidate in Afghan election: sources

karzaiAfghan President Hamid Karzai chose a female, Hindu candidate when he voted in Saturday’s parliamentary election, two palace officials close to him said. Just two Hindu candidates were on the list of about 600 vying for parliamentary seats in the Afghan capital. Karzai’s choice could annoy supporters in deeply conservative, Muslim Afghanistan. (Photo: President Karzai casts his vote in Kabul September 18, 2010/Andrew Biraj)

His backers include powerful ex-warlords who were fielding their own candidates and religious conservatives who are opposed to female politicians and unlikely to be happy Karzai is backing a non-Muslim.

“It was Anar Kali Honaryar,” one palace official told Reuters, giving the name of a female activist who largely relied on Muslim supporters during her campaigning.

Afghan Hindus and Sikhs grapple with uncertain future

kabul view (Photo: Kabul, December 30, 2009/Marko Djurica)

They thrived long before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century and for a long time dominated the country’s economy, but Sikh and Hindu Afghans now find themselves struggling for survival.

“We have no shelter, no land and no authority,” says Awtar Singh, a senator and the only non-Muslim voice in Afghanistan’s parliament. “No one in the government listens to us, but we have to be patient, because we have no other options,” says the 47-year-old Sikh.

In a brief idyll in 1992, after the fall of the Moscow backed-government but before civil war erupted, there were around 200,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan compared with around just a few thousand today.

Shots fired to disperse Afghan Koran protest in Kabul

afghan-koran-protest (Photo: Afghans protest at parliament building in Kabul, 25 Oct 2009/Ahmad Masood)

Afghan police fired into the air on Sunday to break up a protest by thousands of people who had gathered in the capital, Kabul, to protest against what they said was the desecration of a copy of the Koran by foreign troops.

Protesters, claiming foreign forces had burned a copy of Islam’s holiest book during a raid in Maidan Wardak province last week, blocked traffic in Kabul for more than an hour. A spokeswoman for U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan said none of their troops were involved in the incident and blamed the Taliban for spreading a false rumor that a copy of the Koran had been burned.

Thick plumes of smoke rose above the crowd as protesters set fire to a large effigy of what they said was U.S. President Barack Obama. “Death to America. Down with Israel,” chanted one man at the rally, which was organized mainly by university students. Others threw stones and clashed with police but no casualties were reported.

France may ban burqas, but chic abayas for export are fine

three-burqasWhen French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared last month that the burqa was not welcome in France, he unleashed a global debate on Islam and veils that drew in everyone from bloggers and full-time pundits to Al Qaeda’s North African wing. FaithWorld has dealt with it when Sarkozy spoke, in the aftermath of that speech, with a view from Afghanistan and a televised debate with a National Assembly deputy backing the ban. (Photo: Kabul women in burqas, 20 Nov 2001/Yannis Behrakis)

Last week, a somewhat unlikely group of commentators joined the debate — fashion designers at the haute couture shows in Paris. The niqab and the burqa are, after all, garments, so maybe it should not be surprising that the high priests of fashion have spent some thought on the issue.

In fact, many top French designers make customised abayas (long, baggy gowns some Arab women usually worn with a veil) and other luxury versions of traditional outfits for their Middle Eastern clients.

Burqa losing favour as Afghan women opt for chador

burqa-black (Photo:A burqa-clad woman in Kabul’s old bazaar, 4 March 2009/Ahmad Masood)

Here’s some news for Nicolas Sarkozy. While the French president has begun a battle against the burqa in France, the famous blue garment that covers women from head to toe is losing favour back in its stronghold Afghanistan. In Herat, burqa seller Nehmatullah Yusefy says sales have dropped 50 percent since the Talibanchador1 were toppled in 2001 and he says he will soon need to start stocking other styles of Islamic dress to make up for lost profits. (Photo right: Baghdad woman in chador, 12 Nov 2008/Mahmoud Raouf)

“I think, God willing, the sales of burqas will decrease, then I will sell chador namaz and even maybe mantau chalvar,” Yusefy said, standing behind the counter of his small outlet on a strip of burqa shops in the western city’s main market.

Read my feature here.

chalwar1The chador namaz is a long, billowing dress in black or sombre-patterned fabric which is widely worn in Iran. It exposes the woman’s face but covers the rest of her head and body until her ankles.