Afghanistan's Women: Nightmare World

The Taliban have hit the headlines with often bizarre or brutal actions, which they insist are based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law. They’ve blown up ancient Buddhist monuments, sheltered Osama bin Laden from America where he’s accused of terrorism, and obliged men to wear beards. Women face particularly stringent restrictions. Banned from most jobs and schooling, they are largely confined to their homes. The foreign press has concentrated mainly on the instant shock value of such stories. But what is the structural impact of this vast, unprecedented social experiment?

The World Today Updated 26 October 2020 Published 1 August 2001 5 minute READ

Saira Shah

Independent filmmaker of Afghan origin

Sitting in a bare mud-walled room in an Afghan refugee camp, I listened as a window opened upon a nightmare world. ‘I saw a girl wearing white shoes,’ a woman told me. ‘The Taliban came and said to her: ‘White is the colour of our flag. You have dishonoured our flag. So they beat her.’

In another camp, a boy of about ten years old told me how the Taliban hunted him with dogs. His transgression? A haircut they considered decadently western. Another little girl hid in a bread oven and watched the Taliban kill her father for his wristwatch and waistcoat.

In Pakistan’s squalid and sprawling Afghan refugee camps, I got my first hint of the wider consequences of restricting individual freedoms. The woman who told me about the white shoes had been a schoolteacher. She left the country when the Taliban no longer permitted her to teach. The camps are packed with people like her – teachers, doctors and engineers.

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