On January 31, 2022, in Kabul, a girl sits in front of a bakery amid a line of Afghan women waiting to collect bread.
Reuters/Ali Khara In a press conference in August 2021, just before the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claimed that the rebels would protect women’s rights in accordance with Islamic law. It was an empty promise, claims filmmaker Ramita Navai.
In reference to Mujahid’s news conference, Navai states, “The Taliban recognized that the world was watching, is watching, and that women’s rights for the world is a litmus test of their government and how they address human rights.” Of course, the world quickly realized that they weren’t as committed to reform as they were portraying themselves to be.
In the recent PBS Frontline program, Afghanistan Undercover , which she began researching in early 2020, Navai details how the Taliban treated women.
“I started focusing on the territory that “the Taliban” were annexing and what was happening to the local women. And that was terrifying “says Navai. “I wanted to create a documentary almost as a warning: Listen, this is what is taking place.”
The documentary was shot in Afghanistan’s regions, which are outside of the capital Kabul and where the oppression of women’s rights has been particularly severe. The Taliban have broken their commitment to allow girls to finish sixth grade and beyond since taking power. Women can no longer work, with a few exceptions. They are supposed to be completely covered when walking along the street, with only an opening for their eyes. Numerous women and girls are being kidnapped and forced to wed a Taliban member after being arrested for moral code violations.
WORLD Navai, a British citizen, claims that the fact that she was born in Iran and can pass for an Afghan has allowed her to blend in on Afghani streets and into areas that might otherwise be restricted. She adds that being a woman also helped.
In a patriarchal environment with males like the Taliban, she claims, “being a woman may be a brilliant thing because I was utterly disregarded.” “I don’t frequently get enthusiastic about being a woman who is invisible, disregarded, and undervalued. One of them was that.”
The conditions for women in Afghanistan deteriorated during Navai’s two travels, which she relates to a shift in global focus from Afghanistan to Ukraine. Navai first filmed in Afghanistan in November 2021 and returned in March of this year.
“That is exactly what so many of the ladies we spoke to told us: “Nobody cares about Afghanistan any more because of Ukraine.” And because there are no checks and balances on these people, we’re more terrified than ever “she claims.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE INTERVIEW On what she discovered after speaking with the female prisoners
The women and girls have all been imprisoned since the Taliban assumed control of the country for moral offenses or ostensibly moral offences. Of course, the Taliban emptied every prison in the nation when they gained control, to provide just one example. As a result, since the coup, all of these ladies have been incarcerated. The ladies and their families also informed us that their cases had not been properly documented, which is another thing we learned. They had just vanished, leaving no trace behind, and had thus been pulled into this black hole. Their family had gradually learned where they were, and they had all begun to try to negotiate their release. However, there was obviously no record since the Taliban tried—and still tries—to hide these detentions of women from the outside world.
Concerning the kidnapping and forced marriage of Taliban fighters of women and girls
Being a woman can be great in a patriarchal environment with men like the Taliban because I was completely ignored, according to filmmaker Ramita Navai of the documentary Afghanistan Undercover.
PBS The cultural issue of forced weddings that occurs in Afghanistan, where parents send their daughters to families for marriage, is fundamentally distinct from these forced unions. A bride price is paid. And families… collaborate and reach decisions collectively, with the daughter typically having no influence.
However, as of late, the Taliban are kidnapping women and children and carrying them away without the family’s permission or a bride price. And what typically happens, the typical pattern, is that a Taliban fighter or even a Taliban commander may see or hear about a woman they want to marry because we found evidence that this was happening at high levels inside the Taliban. The reason for this is frequently a particularly lovely, gorgeous young woman or girl whom they have heard about or seen in the market, and they approach the family and ask for her hand in marriage in an official manner first.
They kidnap the girl when the family refuses to let them. They will therefore arrive with more troops. They will occasionally show up with a cleric in tow and get married there and then. Additionally, the girl is frequently taken away without the family’s knowledge. Naturally, the family’s male members will object, which frequently results in beatings for the family. And once more, in every single case I came across, the girls’ families had been physically assaulted before the children were stolen. Talking to any of these girls was nearly hard because they were all in a locked room.
On how some women are defying tight dress regulations set by the Taliban
The fact that ladies were dressed in such a bold manner in Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan, honestly fairly startled me. I then spoke with a few of those women, pulled them aside, and I said, “Look at those high heels you’re sporting. My eyes catch your ankles. You have a lot of makeup on. Your scarf is letting your hair fall out. How dare you? Do you not feel afraid?” Yes, we are afraid, but this is a sort of resistance, they responded.
And it really brought to mind Iran. You might get flogged in Iran when I was a reporter there ten or fifteen years ago for wearing a poor hijab. If you put on too much makeup, you can get spanked. However, everyone, especially the ladies, would go out with their cosmetics and hair on display; it was sort of a form of youth rebellion. And the youth’s salute with one finger to a structure and a philosophy they disagreed with. And speaking with these young Afghan women and girls in this district in northern Afghanistan, who are pushing the envelope and dared to leave the house uncovered, was extremely amusing because it made me think of what was going on in Iran and the youth there.
Regarding the woman-led underground safe home network that assists Afghan women
They would receive phone calls from families and women in need all around the nation. Therefore, they required cover, and there was practically an underground train network. Families were forced to flee frequently. They were being sought by the Taliban. It was also intriguing to note that the young women in charge of this network of covert safe houses were all fleeing the Taliban. As a result, they were always operating clandestinely and underground while risking their own lives to assist families fleeing the Taliban.
WORLD On the huge increase in Afghan women’s suicides and why they aren’t reported
One of the rare places where women commit suicide at higher rates than men is Afghanistan. That is true in just a few nations around the globe. But what we are currently witnessing is a very significant increase in suicides across the nation. As a result, the Taliban’s effects on society are quite substantial. Others contend that many women were confined to their houses and that marriage was always pushed upon women. Some of this is accurate, I suppose. Since the Taliban came to power, very few women’s lives have significantly changed in rural areas. You are aware that the loss of hope has changed.
Many of the women I met with in rural villages understood that there was improvement taking place in Kabul, say, and that there was optimism that things were changing, even if slowly. They also knew that if they did wind up in prison, there was a legal process, but that process is no longer in place. And to witness the results of it in this particular hospital, where I worked, where new suicide cases were in on a daily basis. Furthermore, doctors tell me that many of these instances are not being reported because the Taliban won’t allow the doctors to do so and doesn’t want the public to be aware of the skyrocketing suicide rates.
Additionally, the physicians informed me that they are not to record incidents where the victims are Talib families. Therefore, not every case is being documented. In actuality, suicide rates are much greater than what the statistics indicate. Additionally, a huge number of doctors told me they were frequently threatened and beat.
Why she chose to concentrate on women’s rights
When patriarchy is well ingrained, misogyny, high rates of physical and sexual violence against women, and blatant hypocrisy are present. Human rights cannot exist without women’s rights, and vice versa. Human rights include women’s rights. And it really irritates me when you bring up women’s rights since males in positions of authority frequently ignore them “Oh, but there are more crucial issues to be concerned about. You’re concerned about women’s rights and internal politics.” This occurred in Iran during the 1979 revolution, when tens of thousands of women demonstrated against the hijab on the streets. Even liberals, leftists, and secularists warned them, “Return to your box. Be quiet. Ladies, this place is experiencing a major transformation. The time is not suitable to continue talking about the hijab and women’s rights.”
And it is wholly incorrect because women’s rights serve as a litmus test for human rights, decent governance, and the security and efficiency of a society. The fact that we are informed that something is essential, intriguing, and necessary is what I find to be so horribly disheartening.
The audio for this conversation was created and edited by Amy Salit and Seth Kelley. It was modified for the web by Molly Seavy-Nesper and Bridget Bentz.