Women in Afghanistan face many obstacles

Kara Gutormson

Kara Gutormson

On Feb. 28, Nasrine Gross delivered a lecture entitled “Afghan Women after the Taliban: Liberated or Terrified?”

The event was part of the Harding Distinguished Lecture Series. Gross’s lecture featured three main topics: the history of women in Afghanistan, the current situation of the Taliban and the persistent and re-emerging problems facing Afghan society.

Afghanistan has been a country rife with conflict, and from 1978 to 1992, there was a period of wartime known as the “Jihad Period.” By 1992, the country seemed to enter a stage of peace and stability. For the next four years, women were more active in the Afghan culture than ever before, with many attending secondary school and also going on to universities. Some women started adopting liberal practices such as donning less restrictive clothing, wearing stylish shoes and painting their nails. By 1996, the Taliban took hold, and these practices were abandoned.

“It was as if women were made outlaws in their own country,” said Gross. “They forced us to wear the chador, prohibited us from wearing white socks, shoes that made noise, makeup of any kind or any nail polish.”

In addition to the harsh dress code, women were forbidden to go to school, and families were forced to marry their daughters to members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Taliban claimed to be a religious sect of Islam, but their only real goal was gaining social control, said Gross.

The events following Sept. 11, 2001, led to the fall of the Taliban. Two short months after 9/11, a newly written constitution was ratified in Afghanistan. Although they now have the right to vote, the majority of Afghanistan’s people are illiterate. “Adults are the voters, and if they can’t read, who’s to say that it’s even a democracy,” said Gross.

The numerous changes created very high expectations, and they were not all met. This led to some panic and backlash among the people, reinforcing thoughts that society must remain conservative and bound to the old ways. Thus, the Taliban has been resurrected and is making a comeback.

Members of this organization are burning schools, intimidating families, killing young soldiers – and as a result, are creating more widows and orphans. Afghan women are terrified of the return to a state of war and a future that they are not sure of.

“My country in the next generation will also have illiterate women. It is true that girls’ enrollment in school is up 30 percent, but 96 percent will drop out before sixth grade ? Change is needed, now. My people are ready for change,” said Gross.

Thomas Stenvig, who is on the Harding Distinguished Lecture Series committee, said the lecture raised awareness of the political and educational repression in Afghanistan. The committee partnered with the South Dakota Council on World Affairs (SDCWA) to co-sponsor the event.