September 21, 2022

‘I dare not go far’: Taliban rules trap Afghan women without male guardians | Afghanistan

Hasina* cannot send her two daughters to school because they are teenagers and high school is banned for girls in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

But she cannot take them out of the country to complete their studies because she is a divorced single mother, and women are not allowed to travel long distances without a male “guardian” to accompany them.

Wazhma* lays awake wondering what she will do if her elderly, sick mother needs emergency medical help at night. Her father is dead, she is single and her teenage sister is disabled.

She is terrified that as women out alone at night, even on the way to the hospital, they will be arrested and harassed by the Taliban.

Most Afghan women have had to learn to endure new restrictions and controls over the past year, but there is one group whose lives have been particularly reduced.

Women who live in households without close male relatives, whether through tragedy, circumstance or choice, now live in legal limbo because they have no close male relatives. masculine to act as Mahramor “keeper”.

In the Taliban’s extremist reinvention of Afghanistan, women are not fully autonomous citizens of their own country. Instead, a man is considered responsible for his appearance in public, including how he dresses and where he moves.

Officially, any woman traveling more than 75 km or leaving the country needs a mahram. If a woman is found to have violated Taliban dress codes, the men in her family risk being punished.

The rules have been enforced sporadically, with some officials turning a blind eye to solo travel. Raihana* was banned from boarding a plane earlier this year for a work trip, but says the women have since been allowed to fly again on their own.

“It was March, they had just circulated the new notice that no woman can go to another city without mahram. I was not allowed to board the plane and had to wait at airport for two to three hours, with 20 or 30 other women,” she said. “It lasted a few weeks and then they abolished [the rule]. Now we can travel again.

But many others across Afghanistan have reported restrictions on women’s movement that go well beyond official regulations. They told the Guardian that Taliban fighters barred them from even short journeys, including commuting, sometimes using indirect tactics such as menacing drivers picking up lone female passengers.

A man walks past a vandalized mural depicting a group of women in Kabul. Photography: Nava Jamshidi/Getty Images

Health workers said they had personal experience of women being denied access to medical aid without a mahram in at least two districts, one in the central province of Bamiyan and the other in southern India. ‘Helmand.

These extreme controls fuel the fears of women like Wazhma, even about trips that should be legal, like taking her mother to a hospital in Kabul.

Previously, she held a senior government position, traveling overseas and criss-crossing Afghanistan. Since the Taliban ordered most female civil servants off work, then advised women not to leave home except when necessaryshe can count on her hands the number of times she has left her neighborhood.

“Because of my mother’s situation, I want to take her abroad to a better hospital, but I don’t dare. I know if I travel far they might arrest me,” she said, adding that she found the situation unbearable.

“I can’t tolerate this. I am a person who studied and worked all these years, now an illiterate man can stop me, ask questions, argue with me, and I cannot argue with him.

Students who have won scholarships abroad are anxious to know whether they will be allowed to board their flights without a mahram, WhatsApp group chats shared with the Guardian showed.

A husband, brother, father, son or nephew can fulfill the role of mahram. But after decades of war, Afghanistan has an estimated 2 million widows who may not have a living father, brother or son able or willing to serve as their mahram. Divorced and single women face similar problems.

Some women gamble on evading detection, ignoring rules they think don’t make sense. “I’m going to take the risk and leave, and I know they’re going to react, but what do I do?” said a young activist, who always travels alone for his work. “If I don’t have a mahram, where do I find one? I can’t just buy one, or ask a Talib to be my mahram.

The Taliban solution to the conflict between laws that deny women’s autonomy and the daily struggles of many women without guardians is to deny there is a problem.

“They must have someone,” Sadeq Akif Muhajir, spokesperson for the Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice says Rukhsana Media recently. “They have brothers or nephews.”

Hasina has a brother and Wazhma an uncle who could be their official guardians, but both have made it clear that they do not want any financial responsibility for their loved ones and will not escort them to a border post to leave the country.

“He’s not here to take responsibility or to support us, he’s just here for his own purpose and when it’s achieved, he’ll go again,” Wazhma said of his uncle, who recently returned from Iran. to sell a shared family home where she has lived with her mother and sister since her father died.

Women cover their faces while walking down a street in Kabul
Officially, any woman traveling more than 75 km or leaving the country needs a mahram. Photography: Nava Jamshidi/Getty Images

Others have family members who have stepped up, but at a cost to everyone. Kamila* lived only with her sister and her mother until last August. Now her 17-year-old nephew sleeps at their home, even though she misses her own mother who is across town.

“Before the Taliban came, we lived alone here,” Kamila said. “We weren’t afraid of anything. Now it has become very scary for us, we know the Taliban only values ​​men.

Mahram rule also contributed to economic disaster for families without adult men, amid a wider economic collapse. Regulations make it harder or more frightening for women to find a job or get to work.

Hasina used to make a decent living as a seamstress, but now struggles because she is afraid to go out alone. “I wait for customers to come here so I can sew their clothes at home,” she says. Inevitably, his income plummeted.

“I dare not stray from this street and I have not been beyond this neighborhood since the arrival of the Taliban. I heard that when they find families without a mahram, they take the women away. Even if I found a job outside the home, I wouldn’t take it.

It also distorts family relationships. An unlucky minority are forced to rely on their young sons to fulfill the role of their “protector”, distorting the normal dynamic between mother and child.

“According to the rules of the Taliban, a boy over the age of seven can be a mahram; isn’t it stupid of them to think that a child of seven can defend his mother or prevent something bad from happening? produce?” says Sahar*, widow and mother of seven girls and three boys, the eldest being only 12 years old.

“They appreciate a boy and regard a woman as nothing. They want to isolate us. And [being given this power] affects boys. You can even feel it in our family,” she says. “Islam gives a lot of rights to women, but the Taliban took them all away.

“Right now, Afghan women are on their own, even if you want to support us, you can’t. Only we know and our God knows what we are going through.

*Names have been changed