Weeping for women in Afghanistan

A wise man once wrote, “When the righteous become numerous, the people rejoice, but when the wicked dominate, the people moan.”[1]

How we moan and weep for the nation of Afghanistan this week as the Taliban swept into the capital city Kabul. Bent only on violence against the innocent, the Taliban certainly qualify as wicked.

Thousands across the nation had fled to the capital for safety but now there is nowhere to go. A photo on the front page of many UK papers showed a Madonna-like woman in a camp with her two little boys staring helplessly at the camera. What hope is there for those boys and their widowed mum?

The Taliban targets many groups that encourage human rights – journalists, teachers, police, doctors, people who have done work for foreign countries and members of ethnic minorities. Shia Muslims and Christians are also terrorised by the Sunni Taliban.

From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban ruled Afghanistan after a brutal conflict between Russian forces and tribal fighters called the Mujahideen left them able to seize power.

Those years were marked by strict Sharia law such as public executions of murderers and adulterers and amputations as punishment. The Taliban were known for the repression of women: they had to wear the burqa; girls over 10 had to leave school; women could not work outside the home; and they could not travel without a male to accompany them. Women doctors were not allowed to practise so women often missed out on ante-natal care.

Any influences seen as corrupting like television, movies, the internet, and music were banned.

Their power to cause havoc remained even after the US and UK invaded Afghanistan and installed a new government. Many fighters crossed in and out of Pakistan and famously in 2012, a group of Taliban attacked schoolgirl writer and activist, Malala Yousafzai.

The women who will lose most under Taliban rule are urban educated women; in poor rural areas, women and girls have been second class citizens whoever was in power.

Since the Taliban were ousted 20 years ago, life has improved. In 2003, only 10 percent of girls were enrolled in primary schools but 15 years later it is 33 percent—still a pathetic figure but a huge leap. There was a similar increase at secondary level.

Women’s life expectancy grew from 56 to 66 between 2001 and 2017, and their survival rates during pregnancy and childbirth increased 600%!

Human Rights Watch says that even though the present government’s record on the protection of women and girls is patchy, they have passed laws to outlaw domestic violence, forced marriage and rape and they have encouraged hundreds of women to train as lawyers and judges. Women can now acquire property.

In practice, women who experience abuse are still pressured by family or police not to make a complaint. Male family members see family honour as all important and urge women in all sorts of ways to return to her husband. “Honour killings” are not uncommon.

Now as the Taliban sweeps back to total control and represses the freedoms of citizens, the safety of women and girls is of huge concern. Their power allows and even encourages misogyny. A favoured way to reward fighters is to give them “wives” who are no more than sex slaves taken by force from their families or sadly surrendered by parents as a way to protect the rest of the family.

What must women and girls and all good husbands and fathers be fearing as the Taliban sweep aside the government?

Will we accept refuges from Afghanistan? Will we work together to speak out about the rights of women who have seen opportunity shine in the last generation?

Will we pray for evil to be conquered and will we support efforts to bring just peace.

Those who know Afghanistan well are resigned to more violence and more bungling by the West.

The writer of Proverbs says with resignation that the wicked don’t understand the rights of the poor, they hate the innocent and seek to kill the virtuous.

But one line gives hope – the wicked are snared by their own sin; the righteous will sing and rejoice.

May we shout out for justice, pray for an end to evil and support Afghans who have fled their homes.

In the midst of so many other tragedies around the world – in Haiti, in Plymouth, Yemen, let alone ongoing Covid challenges – it is hard to remain compassionate and hope-filled. But we must not give in to wickedness.

As one female journalist pleaded from her hiding place inside Afghanistan, “Please pray for me”, I feel compelled to pray to Father God to protect innocent lives and to bring down the wicked.

[1] Proverbs 29:2

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