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FEATURE | winter 2009
Lives on the Line
Facing a resurgent Taliban, Afghan women have had to cover up and take cover.

By Alisa TangAfghan woman

In September 2008, Malalai Kakar, police chief for the department of crimes against women in Kandahar—the former Taliban stronghold in the south—was fatally shot while on her way to work. Less than two months later, several girls were walking to school in Kandahar when two men on a motorbike sprayed them with acid. Two of the girls were blinded and ten Taliban members were charged in the crime.

In 70 percent of Afghan provinces, the Taliban is back, accompanied by a skyrocketing death toll across the country and an increase in attacks targeting women and girls. “Four years ago, when I visited Kandahar, the security situation was very good … everything was normal. Everyone could work and women could move around freely,” said Mehbooba Qasimi, a 32-year-old poet who left Iran to move back to Kandahar nearly two years ago. “Now the situation for women in Kandahar feels the same as during the Taliban times.” The strategy behind these assaults seems clear: A day after the acid attacks in Kandahar, 1,500 students at the girls’ school stayed home.

SamarNonetheless, Afghan women have made some social and political advances. As the new post-Taliban government was formed, women fought for and won the right to hold a quarter of the 249 seats in the lower house of parliament. President Hamid Karzai’s Cabinet includes one woman—the minister of women’s affairs—and women’s participation in sectors such as health care, education and media has improved. Many women are now breadwinners—repairing mobile phones or selling baked goods, solar-powered lamps and handicrafts—and can thus assert themselves more strongly.

Afghan women continue to bravely fight for their rights. There is a sense of urgency among them, because with the Taliban back in strength and potentially at the negotiating table with the government, their lives are on the line again.

Excerpted from the Winter 2009 issue of Ms. - join the ms. community at www.msmagazine.com.

ALISA TANG is a U.S. freelance journalist based in Kabul and Bangkok, Thailand. She worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press in Kabul from 2006 through 2008, covering social issues, women and children

Photos by David Gill

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