Dossier 17: Statement by the Afghan Women’s Network

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Afghan Women’s Network
September 1997
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Who we are

We are a group of Afghan women and their supporters who live in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In a country where over 90% of the women and girls are illiterate, we are a group of women who were encouraged by their families to become educated. Many of us have university degrees. Many of us previously worked in Afghanistan as lawyers, engineers, professors and doctors. Now we are working with NGOs (non governmental organizations), UN agencies and schools. Some of us are widows. Many of us are the sole support of our families. Because we are educated, we believe that we have the responsibility to speak out for ourselves and for other Afghan women who have not had the opportunities we have had.

The Afghan Women’s Network

Although Afghanistan had no official delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, a few of us attended the NGO Forum on Women. Meeting with other women from around the world inspired us to start the Afghan Women’s Network to work for peace and human rights in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Women’s Network is active in Peshawar and Islamabad in Pakistan and Mazar-i-sharif and Kabul, Afghanistan.

Afghan Women’s Campaign for Peace and Human Rights

In September 1996, we launched a campaign for peace and human rights in Afghanistan. A delegation from the Afghan Women’s Network visited the USA, where we spoke with human rights organizations, NGOs, women’s organizations and UN agencies. We received support from many organizations and individuals, who previously had had no direct contact with any organized group of Afghan women working for peace and human rights.

Taliban takeover of Kabul

While the delegation was in New York, the group known as the Taliban, took over the Afghan city of Jalalabad. A week later the Taliban took over the capital city, Kabul. Although none of the military factions in Afghanistan respect the human rights of women and girls, the actions of the Taliban have been the most extreme.

Since the Taliban takeover of Kabul on September 27, 1996, women have been ordered to stay at home and not to work. Many women are the sole support of their families. There are an estimated 25,000 widows in Kabul. Other women play an important economic role within their extended families. Many international aid programs in Kabul are temporarily suspended. The World Food Programme in a press release dated October 10, 1996 noted that a bakery in Kabul operated by war widows has been forced to shut down, leaving 15,000 beneficiaries without bread.

Some women have ventured out, covered from head to toe in a garment worn over their clothes called a "burqa" Even the burqa does not protect a woman. One woman in a burqa was beaten because she was not wearing socks. Another woman, who left her house to visit her sick mother, stated "I was fully covered with black clothes (head to feet) top to bottom. The Taliban stopped me along the way and asked me why are you alone? and thousands of whys. Then they started beating me and hit me with a metal rod." Another woman in Kabul lifted her clothing to jump over a stream of water. Two Talibs accused her of trying to show her legs. She argued with them. She was beaten and thrown to the ground. One strong hit by a heavy rod stopped her life forever.

Although there are no reliable statistics, it is estimated that about 70% of the teachers in Kabul are women. They have all been ordered to stay at home, causing a severe shortage of teachers. Girls are not allowed to attend schools. Many boys cannot attend school because of the lack of teachers. Before the Taliban takeover, girls were attending schools regularly. About 40% of the estimated 150,000 children attending school in Kabul were girls.

Taliban ordered female patients to leave the hospitals, since the staff included male doctors. Male doctors are not allowed to treat female patients. Some female medical workers have been allowed to return to work, but they cannot work with their male colleagues. Other medical workers who tried to return to work were turned away by the Taliban. One nurse explained how she could hear their female patients crying and calling out to them but the Taliban did not allow the nurses to enter the hospital.


We have no reliable reports on the numbers of people who have fled Kabul, either for the northern areas, still under the control of General Dostum or for Pakistan, but many people have chosen to leave rather than face Taliban control. At first, women and girls left if they could. Now, families are sending their adolescent boys out of Kabul for fear that they might be forced to join the Taliban and fight. Some families living in Herat, under Taliban control since September 1995, have sent their daughters to Iran or Pakistan for education or are conducting classes clandestinely in their homes.

Afghan women who are currently working for international programs, schools or offices in Pakistan are worried about what might happen if Pakistan recognizes the Taliban government and then insists that all refugees return to Afghanistan. Women will be unable to return to Afghanistan unless their basic human rights to employment, education and security are guaranteed. According to UNHCR, during the past year, most Afghan refugees in Iran, have not returned to Taliban controlled areas. One of the reasons given was the lack of female access to basic services such as health and education.

Some media reports and commentators have put forward the view that the control of the Taliban is not so negative because they have brought order without looting. This view ignores the fact that the decrees of the Taliban deny women and girls as well as men and boys their basic human rights. The "order" they have imposed is based on violence and the fact that they have all the weapons. They rule by direct force and threat of force. The people of Afghanistan have had no say about who is ruling them. This is not "peace" or "security".

If it were a racial, religious or ethnic minority that was being denied the right to work, the right to mobility, the right to education, the right of access to health care, there would have been a tremendous international outcry, as developed in the case of South Africa.

We ask people to consider what would be the effect if they were to wake up tomorrow and just because they are female, they would be denied the right to leave their homes to go shopping, the right to work outside the home and the right to go to school. Consider what effect such a harsh regime would have on your mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. Gender apartheid is just as great a denial of basic human rights as is racial apartheid.

Support Afghan women’s and girls’ human rights

We are concerned about the violations of human rights of all Afghans - women, men, boys and girls. However, we note that women and girls have been singled out by the Taliban authorities as not having the right to work or attend school.

Therefore, we want to reaffirm our position that we must have guarantees of the basic rights of women and girls. These rights are:

1. Women's right to employment outside the home, which includes the right to work with their male colleagues.

2. Women's and girls right to security. Women should not be forced to wear a uniform type of clothing or covering. They should have mobility without harassment.

3. Women's and girls right to equal access to education. Women and girls should have equal access to a complete educational curriculum, not just Qur'anic instruction. They should have equal access to all levels of education from primary through university. We do not accept the excuse of "security" for the closing of girls’ schools while boys’ schools remain open, which the Taliban have used in other areas under their control for over one year.

Guarantees of women’s basic human rights should be part of all interim peace agreements. International donors should require guarantees of women’s human rights before contributing funds for rehabilitation and development in Afghanistan.

There should be a woman on every team negotiating with the Taliban, both from the political side of the Special Mission for peace in Afghanistan and the humanitarian side regarding requirements for the resumption of aid projects, many of which are temporarily suspended in Kabul.

When a delegation of Afghan women from the Afghan Women's Network was in New York they received verbal assurances from UN officials that there should be a woman on the Special Mission but that they had not yet identified qualified candidates.

Now the matter is of great urgency. We cannot expect military factions like the Taliban to understand and accept the requirements that women work in offices, if the official UN delegations have no women members. We have urged that EVERY international delegation, whether UN, donors or NGOs should include women.

We would urge all member states of the UN General Assembly NOT to recognize the Taliban or any other military faction as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Although the Taliban control the largest geographic area, they are a military faction that has imposed their rule by force not by the participation and acceptance of the Afghan people. They have imposed a particularly brutal regime that has placed women and girls under siege. One Afghan woman described Kabul as "the biggest prison for women in the world".

Negotiations with the Taliban and other military factions must emphasize the importance of women’s and girls’ human rights as a requirement for all interim agreements to establish peace.

Support received

We welcome the support that we have received from human rights organizations around the world, such as the International League for Human Rights, Equality Now, Amnesty International, People’s Decade for Human Rights Education, Working Group on the Human Rights of Women, Refugee Women in Development, Sisterhood is Global Institute, Women Living Under Muslim Laws and UN agencies.

In a press release dated October 7, 1996, Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said that "Throughout the United Nations system, the principles embodied in the United Nations Charter are morally and legally binding, including its preamble statement of determination ‘to reaffirm faith in human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of man and woman...'" The Secretary-General noted that the scope of restrictions being applied against women and girls in Afghanistan "could also have serious repercussions on the ability of the United Nations to deliver programmes of relief and reconstruction." We welcome his strong reaffirmation of the basic principles of human rights for women and girls.

We ask for your support for the participation of Afghan women in the peace process and the guarantees of women’s rights to employment outside the home and women’s and girls’ human rights to education and security. We ask you not to recognize the Taliban or any other military faction as being the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

Thank you.

Message from the Afghan Women’s Network

"Time is passing. It is the fifth month of the Taliban’s restrictive rules on women in Kabul. The families need the support of their women. Women are losing opportunities and their skills. Girls are cut off from education and soon they will forget what they have learned. In the future there will be no Afghan educated women. Unfortunately, nothing appears in the reports of the UN Committees, Meetings, General Assemblies, etc. on the violations of the human rights of Afghan women".

At the International Forum on Assistance to Afghanistan in Ashagabad, Turkmenistan, 21-22 January, 1997, the following message was read from Afghan women; "We fully respect and support the UN Charters and the Universal Declarations on gender and human rights. Coordination is vital but will not succeed if individual agencies, especially donors, do not act according to their stated principles. Women are over 50% of the population in Afghanistan; women are the sole supporters of their families; girls are the future mothers; women and girls have not been involved in war and have never benefitted from the war by getting power or position, but they have experienced enormous suffering of war. When a woman is educated, a family is educated, and a society is educated". Afghan women went on to state their demands, including gender equity in all programmes for Afghan women to be involved in the peace process; the appointment of a permanent team of human rights specialists in Afghanistan who would be in close contact with the people and would facilitate dialogues with authorities.

Kabul, the largest prison for women in the world

Where can we find the words from our hearts to share with the readers the suffering of the people of Kabul, especially the women and girls? Kabul has become the world's largest prison for women in the world. The women and girls have been confined to their homes by the military faction known as the Taliban. Women are experiencing the gradual death of despair. They see no future for themselves or their daughters.

The female population has been ordered to stay at home by the Taliban. They are forbidden to work. Women have always worked in Kabul. They are necessary for the functioning of the city. Most of the teachers in Kabul are women. Therefore, many boys have no teachers. Women and girls are banned from attending any schools or educational institutions.

Female patients in all hospitals were ordered by the Taliban to go home. Women cannot be treated by male doctors. Some women doctors and nurses have been allowed to return to work, but women cannot work with their male colleagues. Female medical workers must wear a complete covering from head to toe, known as the burqa, making it very difficult to treat their patients.

If women have to go out for food, medicine or other daily needs, they must cover themselves with a burqa and must be accompanied by a male family member. Even being covered completely is no protection. One woman was beaten because she was not wearing socks. Another woman who lifted her clothing to jump over a stream was beaten with a heavy rod by the Taliban.

Some people say that the Taliban have brought peace to Kabul. Taliban have put the women in the prison of their homes. This is not peace. Women have no weapons. They are being attacked and beaten by Taliban for no reason except the fact that they are women. This is not peace. This is war against women and girls. Whatever you bring by force cannot mean peace.

We are a group of Afghan women living in exile in Pakistan. As mothers and sisters we do not want to see our children soaked in blood. We do not want our daughters to grow up illiterate. We want to bring peace and human rights to our country, especially for women and girls. Peace means respect for people's human rights. We ask all the readers to tell your government, the United Nations and the international human rights organizations that Afghan women must have the right to work outside their homes, that women and girls must have the right to education and that women and girls must be able to leave their homes without being harassed and beaten. We need your help to bring the real peace to our homeland, Afghanistan.