More than 3,000 dead in Afghanistan earthquakes — 90 per cent were women and children ‘imprisoned’ in their homes

No respite in sight, yet Afghans remain unyielding in their resilience
Photo: Afghan woman and children look through the rubble where their homes once stood. Women and children, confined to their homes by the Taliban, made up the majority of those killed | Photo via MSF
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This month, Afghanistan was devastated by four earthquakes in just over a week. Entire villages were wiped out, with more than 3,000 people dead and thousands more wounded. More than 90 per cent of those killed were women and children: a direct effect of the Taliban’s policies restricting the movement of women.

The underwhelming response by the international community is distressing. Afghanistan is already facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and more than 90 per cent of the population lives in poverty.

Since the Taliban takeover in 2021, Afghans continue to face crises including hunger, malnutrition, unemployment and natural disasters, as well as targeted bombings of Shias and Hazaras in mosques and schools.

The Doha Agreement between the U.S. and Taliban, which has facilitated the Taliban military takeover and includes secret annexes, did not involve the participation or consent of the Afghan people.

The people of Afghanistan, its diaspora, and those in exile remain unyielding in their resilience. Under the Taliban regime, Afghanistan is not free. Afghans continue to push for self-representation and self-determination.

The definition of “apartheid” in the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court only addresses race-based apartheid. The Taliban have labelled the treatment of women “a small matter.” The erasure of Afghan women from society is gender apartheid.

The United Nations legal committee recently met to debate a draft Crimes Against Humanity treaty. The UN must codify gender apartheid in international law.

Restrictions have excluded Afghan women from political, social, and economic participation. The Taliban have recently closed hair and beauty salons, and prohibiting them from working with the UN. Half of the population are denied rights and freedom.

The definition of “apartheid” in the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court only addresses race-based apartheid. The Taliban have labelled the treatment of women “a small matter.” The erasure of Afghan women from society is gender apartheid.

During the Taliban’s first regime between 1996 to 2001, women’s access to education and work was banned.

It has been over two years since girls have been banned from secondary school. December will mark one year since universities have been banned for women.

The Taliban have been arbitrarily detaining women’s rights activists, education activists, and journalists. Matiullah Wesa, a prominent activist for girls’ education, was just released after being detained for 215 days without reason since March.

Imprisoned in their homes and mirroring conditions of solitary confinement, many young girls describe themselves as being “prisoners.” Since the Taliban takeover, there has been an increase in rates of depression and suicide among women.

Afghanistan is known as the “graveyard of empires.” It is a graveyard of thousands of Afghans at unimaginable costs. Under the Taliban, it is a graveyard of desires and futures for Afghan women and girls.

“Bread, Work, Freedom.” Afghan women are at the vanguard of resistance movements against the Taliban regime. They continue to resist and protest against restrictions, despite risks of detention and torture.

Afghan girls are pursuing education in underground schools. Lionhearted teachers running these secret schools are at risk of being arrested. The pursuit of education by these young girls is an embodiment of their unwavering ambitions to learn and fulfill their dreams under any circumstances.

Organizations and universities across the world must provide opportunities such as greater access to online courses and scholarships for Afghan students.

In an absence of light and an abyss of darkness, there is still hope. Education is not a crime.

This month, Pakistan announced plans to forcefully deport 1.7 million Afghan refugees, many of whom fled the Taliban, back to Afghanistan by November 1. This is not the first time.

Imprisoned in their homes and mirroring conditions of solitary confinement, many young girls describe themselves as being “prisoners.” Since the Taliban takeover, there has been an increase in rates of depression and suicide among women.

Pakistani officials have escalated their violent crackdown on Afghan refugees by arbitrarily detaining, harassing, and torturing them, including children. For years, Pakistan has received millions from countries such as the U.S. and Canada to support Afghan refugees. Yet, many have voiced concerns about their mistreatment and living conditions, struggling to get food, housing, and healthcare.

Pakistan has played a role in the destabilization of Afghanistan by helping to create, support, train, and fund the Taliban as a form of strategic depth. Its army and intelligence agency have provided support in Taliban offensives, as well as sanctuary for Taliban leaders and their families. This has actively contributed to the Afghan refugee crisis.

Countries such as China, Pakistan, Qatar, and Russia have been increasing their ties with the Taliban, despite blatant human rights atrocities.

The UN Human Rights Council recently adopted a new resolution on Afghanistan to create a report by next June on the institutionalized discrimination of human rights and exclusion of women and girls. China and Pakistan opted out of the consensus.

Today, Afghanistan stands as a testament to the resilience of its people in the face of adversity.

The Taliban are not a symbol of freedom. There is nothing Islamic nor of Afghanness about them. This extremist group has committed collective punishment in Panjshir, crimes against humanity, and numerous war crimes against innocent civilians including men, women, children, and the elderly for over two decades. Tajiks, Turkmens, and Uzbeks are being forcefully dispossessed from their homes, while Hazaras continue to face genocide.

The Taliban are not an anti-imperialist resistance group; they are a product of imperialism. They must not be normalized or recognized.

While the world has forsaken Afghanistan, the Taliban continue to repress Afghans. The silence is deafening.

Ferdouse Asefi is an Afghan Canadian PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto.

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