A real war on women is brewing in Afghanistan.
Women there are worried that the freedoms they have won since U.S. forces toppled the brutal Taliban regime 10 years ago will be squandered if the Islamic hard-liners return to power through a U.S.-led peace process.
U.S. and Afghan officials and the Taliban have been engaged for several months in an effort to initiate peace talks that could lead to the militants playing a role in government.
Afghan women bore the brunt of the Taliban’s strict enforcement of Islamic law until U.S. forces overthrew the regime for sheltering al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Taliban regrouped as a militant force and claimed credit this week for coordinated suicide bombings in Kabul and other cities.
Under the Taliban regime, girls were banned from going to school and women’s educational institutions were closed. Many women were forced to quit their jobs and required to wear burqas.
Taliban fighters perpetrated egregious acts of violence against women, including rape, abduction and forced marriage, according to a 2001 report by the State Department.
Unmarried women who were caught with unrelated men were whipped in stadiums full of people. Married women in similar circumstances were stoned to death.
Now schools across Afghanistan brim with girls. Access to health care has reduced the female mortality rate. Women play a role in politics and public life, and the Afghan Constitution criminalizes violence against women.
The Taliban still routinely threaten women who have taken on public roles in society. In some instances, female politicians and social workers have been killed.
In an attack Tuesday that officials blamed on extremists opposed to female education, about 140 Afghan girls and teachers were poisoned by contaminated drinking water at a high school in the northern Takhar province. Some remained in critical condition at a hospital, while others were treated and released.
“We all are afraid of the Taliban coming back in any shape, whether in power in government or as an independent political party,” said Nilofar Sakhi, chairwoman of Women’s Activities and Social Services Association, based in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat.