Women attend Eid al-Fitr prayers at Presidential Palace in Kabul
Homa Hoodfar and Mona Tajali*

The Taliban insurgents continue their deadly war to seize control of Afghanistan after the departure of United States and NATO forces. As they close in on major cities that were once government strongholds, like Badakhshan and Kandahar, many Afghans – and the world – fear a total takeover.

Afghan women may have the most to fear from these Islamic militants.

We are academics who interviewed 15 Afghan women activists, community leaders and politicians over the past year as part of an international effort to ensure that women's human rights are defended and constitutionally protected in Afghanistan. For the safety of our research participants, we use no names or first names only here.

"Reform of the Taliban is not really possible," one 40-year-old women's rights activist from Kabul told us. "Their core ideology is fundamentalist, particularly towards women."

From subjugation to Parliament

The Taliban ruled all of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Everyone faced restrictions under their conservative interpretation of Islam, but those imposed on women were the most stringent.

Women couldn't leave their homes without a male guardian, and were required to cover their bodies from head to toe in a long robe called a burqa. They could not visit health centers, attend school or work.

In 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, toppled the Taliban regime and worked with Afghans to establish a democratic government.

Officially, the U.S. war in Afghanistan was about hunting down Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. The Taliban had sheltered bin Laden in Afghanistan. But the U.S. invoked women's rights as a justification for the occupation, too.

After the Taliban was driven out, women entered public life in Afghanistan in droves. That includes the fields of law, medicine and politics. Women make up more than a quarter of parliamentarians, and by 2016 more than 150,000 women had been elected to local offices.

Rhetoric versus reality

Last year, after 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. signed an accord with the Taliban agreeing to withdraw American troops if the Taliban severed ties with al-Qaida and entered into peace talks with the government.

Officially, in these talks, Taliban leaders emphasize that they wish to grant women's rights "according to Islam."

The Taliban disagree with the basic principles of democracy, including gender equality and free expression

But the women we interviewed say they believe the Taliban still reject the notion of gender equality.

"The Taliban may have learned to appreciate Twitter and social media for propaganda, but their actions on the ground tells us that they have not changed," Meetra, a lawyer, shared with us recently.

The Taliban included no women in its own negotiating team, and as their local fighters are taking over districts, women's rights are being rolled back.

A schoolteacher whose district in northern Mazar-e-Sharif province recently fell to the Taliban told us that, "In the beginning, when we saw the Taliban interviews on TV, we hoped for peace, as if the Taliban had changed. But when I saw the Taliban up close, they have not changed at all."

Members of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan protesting against the Taliban, in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1998 — Photo: RAWA/CC BY 3.0

Using mosque loudspeakers, Taliban fighters in areas under their control often announce that women must now wear the burqa and have a male chaperone in public. They burn public schools, libraries and computer labs.

"We destroy them and put in place our own religious schools, in order to train future Taliban," a local fighter from Herat told the channel France 24 in June 2021.

In Taliban-run religious schools for girls, students learn the "appropriate" Islamic role of women, according to the Taliban's harsh interpretation of the faith. That consists largely of domestic duties.

Such actions demonstrate to many in Afghanistan that the Taliban disagree with the basic principles of democracy, including gender equality and free expression. Taliban negotiators are demanding Afghanistan adopt a new Constitution that would turn it into an "emirate" – an Islamic state ruled by a small group of religious leaders with absolute power.

Women in Afghanistan have been struggling for and gaining new rights for a century

That's an impossible demand for the Afghan government, and peace talks have stalled.

A history of equality

Many Muslim countries have steadily increasing gender equality. That includes Afghanistan, where women have been struggling for and gaining new rights for a century.

In the 1920s, Queen Soraya of Afghanistan participated in the political development of her country alongside her husband, King Amanullah Khan. An advocate for women's rights, Soraya introduced a modern education for women, one that included sciences, history and other subjects alongside traditional home economics-style training and religious topics.

In the 1960s women were among the drafters of Afghanistan's first comprehensive Constitution, ratified in 1964. It recognized the equal rights of men and women as citizens and established democratic elections. In 1965, four women were elected to the Afghan Parliament; several others became government ministers.

Afghan women protested any attacks on their rights. For instance, when religious conservatives in 1968 tried to pass a bill banning women from studying abroad, hundreds of schoolgirls organized a demonstration in Kabul and other cities.

Afghan women's status continued to improve under Soviet-backed socialist regimes of the late 1970s and 1980s. In this era, Parliament further strengthened girls' education and outlawed practices that were harmful to women, such as offering them as brides to settle feuds between two tribes or forcing widows to marry the brother of their deceased husband.

By the end of the socialist regime in 1992, women were full participants in public life in Afghanistan.

In 1996 the rise of the Taliban interrupted this progress – temporarily.

Resilient republic

The post-Taliban era demonstrated Afghan women's resilience after a grueling setback. It also highlighted the public's desire for a more democratic, responsive government.

That political project is still in its infancy today. The U.S. withdrawal now threatens the survival of Afghanistan's fragile democratic institutions.

The Taliban cannot win power at the ballot box. Only around 13.4% of respondents in a 2019 survey by The Asia Foundation expressed some sympathy with the group.

So the Taliban are forcing their authority over the Afghan people using warfare, much as they did in the 1990s. Many women hope what comes next won't repeat that history.


* is a Professor of Anthropology, Emerita at Concordia University and is an Associate Professor of International Relations and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Agnes Scott College

**This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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