Stay Home: Taliban-run Kabul Municipality Orders Female Workers

afghanistan women

Female employees of the Kabul municipality have been told to stay home, with work only allowed for those who cannot be replaced by men, the interim mayor of Afghanistan’s capital said Sunday, detailing the latest restrictions on women by the new Taliban rulers.

The decision to prevent most female city workers from returning to their jobs is another sign that the Taliban are enforcing their harsh interpretation of Islam despite initial promises that they would be tolerant and inclusive.

In their previous rule in the 1990s, the Taliban had barred girls and women from schools, jobs and public life.

In recent days, the new Taliban government issued several decrees rolling back the rights of girls and women. It told female middle- and high school students that they could not return to school for the time being, while boys in those grades resumed studies this weekend. Female university students were informed that studies would take place in gender-segregated settings from now on, and that they must abide by a strict Islamic dress code.

On Sunday, interim Kabul Mayor Hamdullah Namony gave his first news conference since being appointed by the Taliban.

He said that before the Taliban takeover last month, just under one-third of close to 3,000 city employees were women, and that they had worked in all departments.

Namony said the female employees have been ordered to stay home, pending a further decision. He said exceptions were made for women who could not be replaced by men, including some in the design and engineering departments and the attendants of public toilets for women. Namony did not say how many female employees were forced to stay home.

“There are some areas that men cannot do it, we have to ask our female staff to fulfill their duties, there is no alternative for it,” he said.

Across Afghanistan, women in many areas have been told to stay home from jobs, both in the public and private sectors. However, the Taliban have not yet announced a uniform policy. The comments by the Kabul mayor were unusually specific and affected a large female work force that had been involved in running a sprawling city of more than 5 million people.

Women Ministry Shut Down

On Friday, the Taliban shut down the Women’s Affairs Ministry. It was the latest troubling sign that the Taliban are restricting women’s rights as they settle with power.

The Taliban replaced a women’s ministry with the “Ministries of Prayer and Guidance and the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” in Kabul on Friday after weeks of ordering women who had shown up for work to go home.

The same name was used in the 1990s by the Taliban authority tasked with punishing women who disobeyed harsh restrictions imposed on them.

Staff of the World Bank’s $100 million Women’s Economic Empowerment and Rural Development Program, which was run out of the Women’s Affairs Ministry, were escorted off the grounds, said program member Sharif Akhtar, who was among those being removed.

Mabouba Suraj, who heads the Afghan Women’s Network, said she was astounded by the flurry of orders released by the Taliban-run government restricting women and girls.

A former advisor to the women’s ministry under the previous Afghan government sent a video message to The Associated Press from her home in Kabul, slamming the Taliban’s move to close the ministry.

It is “the right of women to work, learn and participate in politics on the national and international stage,” said Sara Seerat. ”Unfortunately, in the current Taliban Islamic Emirate government there is no space in the Cabinet. By closing the women’s ministry it shows they have no plans in the future to give women their rights or a chance to serve in the government and participate in other affairs.”

Sayed Zekrullah Hashimi, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in an interview on September 9 that women are incapable of performing government duties, as doing so would “put something on her neck that she cannot carry.”

During the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, thousands of U.S. residents were left behind, including a pregnant woman who was beaten by the Taliban.

Women Protest

Women have held several protests in Kabul and other parts of the country since the Taliban captured power, demanding that the Taliban guarantee them the same rights as men. The rallies were dispersed by the militants.

On Sunday, just over a dozen women staged a protest outside the ministry, holding up signs calling for the participation of women in public life. “A society in which women are not active is dead society,” one sign read.

The protest lasted for about 10 minutes. After a short verbal confrontation with a man, the women got into cars and left, as Taliban in two cars observed from nearby. Over the past months, Taliban fighters had broken up several women’s protests by force.

Elsewhere, about 30 women, many of them young, held a news conference in a basement of a home tucked away in a Kabul neighborhood. Marzia Ahmadi, a rights activist and government employee now forced to sit at home, said they would demand the Taliban re-open public spaces to women.

“It’s our right,” she said. “We want to talk to them. We want to tell them that we have the same rights as they have.”

Most of the participants said they would try to leave the country if they had an opportunity.

On September 14 thousands of people protested in the southern city of Kandahar over Taliban plans to evict families from a former military colony.

Girls will return to secondary schools, but only after ‘safe environment’ is set up, says Taliban

The Taliban has said that girls can return to secondary schools only after Afghanistan’s militant-led government creates a secure environment for them. So far, only boys have been allowed to resume their studies.

“We are not against education of girls, but we are still working on mechanism of how their school attendance can be possible,” Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine.

Mujahid said that a safe environment and transportation must be guaranteed for female students before they are allowed back in classrooms. He said legal scholars must prepare a report on how to set up a secure environment for girls and women in education and employment.

Until today, only boys were allowed to resume their studies when secondary schools reopened on Saturday.

On Friday, the Taliban-run education ministry asked boys from grades six to 12 back to school, starting on Saturday, along with their male teachers. There was no mention of girls in those grades returning to school.

“It is becoming really, really troublesome. … Is this the stage where the girls are going to be forgotten?” Suraj said. “I know they do not believe in giving explanations, but explanations are very important.”

Suraj speculated that the contradictory statements perhaps reflect divisions within the Taliban as they seek to consolidate their power, with the more pragmatic within the movement losing out to hard-liners among them, at least for now.

Suraj, an Afghan American who returned to Afghanistan in 2003 to promote women’s rights and education, said many of her fellow activists have left the country.

Schoolgirls told the BBC they were devastated not to be returning to school. “Everything looks very dark,” one said.

Schoolgirls and their parents on Saturday said prospects were bleak.

“I am so worried about my future,” said one Afghan schoolgirl, who had hoped to be a lawyer.

“Everything looks very dark. Every day I wake up and ask myself why I am alive? Should I stay at home and wait for someone to knock on the door and ask me to marry him? Is this the purpose of being a woman?”

Her father said: “My mother was illiterate, and my father constantly bullied her and called her an idiot. I didn’t want my daughter to become like my mum.”

Another schoolgirl, a 16-year-old from Kabul, said it was a “sorrowful day”.

“I wanted to become a doctor! And that dream has vanished. I don’t think they would let us go back to school. Even if they open the high schools again, they don’t want women to become educated.”

The number of girls in primary schools increased from almost zero to 2.5 million, while the female literacy rate nearly doubled in a decade to 30%. However, many of the gains have been made in cities.

“This is a setback in the education of Afghan women and girls,” said Nororya Nizhat, a former Education Ministry spokesperson.

“This reminds everyone of what the Taliban did in the 90s. We ended up with a generation of illiterate and non-educated women.”

Heather Barr, the associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division, told The Wall Street Journal the current situation “feels very familiar” to the period between 1996 and 2001 when Afghan women and girls “were told to be patient and wait for a day that never came.” Now, she said, there is once again “no reason for much optimism that this ban will end.”

UNESCO’s Concern

UNESCO’s Director General Audrey Azoulay on Saturday added her voice to the growing concern over the Taliban’s limitations on girls after only boys were told to go back to school.

“Should this ban be maintained, it would constitute an important violation of the fundamental right to education for girls and women,” Azoulay said in a statement upon her arrival in New York for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.

Afghanistan’s singers flee Taliban violence

A BBC report said on September 16, 2021:

Afghan singers who escaped to Pakistan say they had no choice but to flee when the Taliban took power in Afghanistan.

The BBC spoke with six singers who crossed the border to Pakistan illegally and are now living in hiding. One said he feared he would be executed if he stayed in Afghanistan.

The Taliban have banned music and are accused of executing a folk singer in northern Baghlan province in August.

The militant group has not responded to the allegation.

Singer Fawad Andarabi’s son Jawad told the Associated Press that his father was shot in the head at the family’s farm in the Andarab valley.

Khan (not his real name) was based in Kabul for the past 20 years and sang and played music at weddings across the country. Folk singers are popular at Pashtun weddings.

Music had been banned under the previous Taliban regime but business had been good since they were overthrown in 2001, he said.

As the Taliban advanced across the country this year Khan and others were unconcerned; they believed that the militant group had changed and would allow them to continue their music-making.

But after the Taliban took control of the capital last month, armed men – who Khan believes were Taliban fighters – came looking for him and smashed up his instruments.

“At midnight my office guard called me and said some people came with guns and broke all the instruments, they are still here and asking about you,” he said.

He and his family left Kabul in the early hours of the following morning. He now says he was wrong about the Taliban.

Famous Afghan singer Aryana Sayeed flew out of Kabul in August.

The singers and musicians who have fled Afghanistan via the Torkham and Chaman border posts are now hiding in the suburbs of Islamabad and Peshawar and trying to find a way to seek asylum outside Pakistan.

Hassan (not his real name), another singer who is now living with a friend in Rawalpindi, told the BBC that he believed the Taliban would execute him if they found him because he had sung a song for the Afghan national army before the fall of Kabul.

Fearful for his life after the militants took over, he left his family behind and travelled to Pakistan.

“Even when the Taliban were not in power, they used to make threats to me and I was a staunch opponent of them too,” he said.

Even before the fall of Kabul, when the Taliban took control of a city they would ban music on local FM radio stations and turn state-run broadcasting into the Voice of Sharia, referring to Islam’s legal system, with programming consisting of religious chanting.

The Taliban disapprove of music due to their strict interpretation of Islam.

“We used to broadcast music on our radio and TV but we are not broadcasting it any more after the Taliban took over,” Massood Sanjer told the BBC. Mr Sanjer is director of the Moby group of channels, which include the Tolo News channel.

The group’s 24-hour music station has been closed, Mr Sanjer says. “The only music that is broadcasting at the moment on our entertainment channel is ‘Naat’, the Taliban’s anthem,” he said.

Akhtar (not his real name), another singer who fled the country with five families of his friends and relatives, told the BBC they had travelled a “grim journey with risk to our lives”. It took them nearly five days to arrive at a friend’s place in Peshawar.

During the journey he was afraid for his seven-year-old daughter, who has a heart condition. “All the way I was not worried for my own life, I was worried about her life,” he said.

He and the growing group of singers and musicians sheltering in Pakistan are hoping to find a new place to live where they can ply their trade and live without fear, he said.

‘Do not let our voices be silenced’: the desperate situation facing Afghan musicians

Ivan Hewett reported on September 17, 2021:

An eerie silence has fallen on Afghanistan. This country, which nurtured some of the greatest musicians of Central Asia of the last half-century, is now officially a country without music. Though there is much confusion about what the new reign of the Taliban will bring, one thing at least is certain: public music-making is banned. This is in line with their very hard-line declaration that music is forbidden in Islam. The Taliban has no respect for learning.

The musicians who once earned a living from their art are now in fear of their lives, and have gone into hiding. At least one folk singer has already been murdered in a remote province. Last-ditch attempts to airlift the players of the Afghan National Orchestra to safety failed; the aircraft was ready and waiting, but the musicians could not reach it. Members of the all-female orchestra Zohra are so fearful of reprisals they have broken their own instruments and burned all their music.

Life for them and other musicians has become a nightmare. Samira, a popular singer of folk songs, who like so many of the younger generation of musicians became known through “Afghan Star”, the Afghan equivalent of X Factor, does not dare go out. “I just have no words to express how bad I feel,” she tells me during our phone conversation, a risky thing to do now in Afghanistan when one never knows who is listening.

“I do not feel safe, so I have to change my home every few days staying with different friends. According to the Taliban I’m a criminal, because music is forbidden, especially if you’re a woman. I’m scared because there are so many spies in society, and I am afraid somebody will reveal my location. Life is very cheap here, people will betray you for 1000 Afghanis [around £9]. So I can’t trust anyone. And also I worry about people I’m staying with. If something happened to them I could not forgive myself, and this is why I move on every few days.”

It is a desperately sad situation for a country that has an extraordinarily rich musical tradition. Writer Michael Church, a passionate enthusiast for Afghan music, says this is due to its location, which borders on two great musical cultures. “On one side you have Pakistan, from where the tradition of ghazals or love-songs made its way to Afghanistan. And on another you have Iran, or Persia as it used to be known,” he says. “Parts of Afghanistan were partly ruled by the Persian Empire in the past, so the great Persian tradition of courtly music had a huge influence.”
What for him are the special glories of Afghan music? “Oh, undoubtedly the players of the rabab, a kind of lute which is the Afghan national instrument,” he says. “You even hear its sound in Westernised pop music. There’s no hostility between folk and pop music in Afghanistan, musicians often perform both.”

Alongside folk and pop there was – until the events of the past few months – a fragile seedling of Western classical music, focused on the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, whose founder, Armad Sarmast, was named an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 2013.

For those with long memories this might seem reminiscent of the 1960s, an extraordinary and never-to-be-repeated moment of liberalism when Afghanistan could boast its own “Afghan Elvis”, the singer Ahmad Zahir.

But it would be wrong to imagine that, until the Taliban, musical life in Afghanistan was a joyous commingling of many different styles, all co-existing in perfect freedom. Life has been difficult for musicians since at least the 1970s, when the fragile monarchy established in the 1920s came to an end.

The death in unexplained circumstances of Zahir at the age of 33, in 1979, is the symbolic turning point in the fate of Afghan music. It was the beginning of an agonized period which changed the mores of the country, as the anti-Soviet mujahideen fighters were religious conservatives who imposed their disapproval of music. The first Taliban government from 1996 to 2001 merely formalized a ban on public music that was already informally enforced in many areas. The streets and markets, where radios and cassette-players once blared out pop songs, became weirdly silent.

Then came the American-backed toppling of the Taliban and an uneasy 20-year period of relative peace, which allowed music to flourish once again. New private TV and radio stations sprung up, one of which created the Afghan Star talent show which at its height was viewed by 11 million people, around a third of the population.

That period nurtured a generation of singers who have tasted the freedom of the West and are unlikely to meekly acquiesce in the new crackdown. One of them, the rapper Omar, is not afraid to criticize aspects of the society around him. “My songs are about social and political issues, they deal with the interference of foreign countries in our country’s politics, and the incompetence and corruption of politicians, terrorist attacks, women’s rights, and other social issues. In the last ten years I have made nine music videos, recorded three music albums and shot three movies, all of which have lyrics critical of our society,” he tells me by text (Omar is more cautious than Samira).

Is it difficult to perform his material in public? “It depends. In Herat, which is a very conservative city where many religious leaders live, my music was banned. But here in Kabul I did many outdoor concerts without any problems.”

Abdul-Alim Karimi, a professor of music at Kabul University, found that the institutional protection afforded by the university was not always a guarantee of safety. “Sometimes our concerts have been disrupted, especially the ones where women were taking part. I remember there was one concert at a student hall of residence and some religious leaders came and stopped the concert and some of the musicians were quite badly beaten.”

Things are particularly fraught for the many female musicians encouraged to perform music by the relatively liberal atmosphere of the last 20 years. Elaha Soroor, an Afghan singer now living in London, almost died at the hands of her uncle. “He said that a woman performing music in public brings shame on a family. He poisoned my food, but fortunately I survived. My parents and brothers also disapproved, so I had to leave home with my sister. We found it impossible as single women to find accommodation in Kabul. In the end I had to disguise myself as a man, so I could pretend to be my sister’s brother.”

Samira had a similar experience, but unlike Soroor she has kept her Islamic faith. From her hiding place in Kabul she expresses her sorrow that the Taliban have perverted the message of her religion. “They say music is haram or forbidden, but I say it is beautiful and peaceful and full of happiness. The rules that the Taliban are imposing on music are not in Islam. I know the Taliban is wrong about this. It is something they have invented for themselves.”

Is she not afraid to talk to me? “No, I want my voice to be heard. I cannot use my fists to fight the Taliban, so my weapon is my tongue.”

The rapper Omar is equally defiant. “Please tell the world to save the artists of Afghanistan. Do not let our voices be silenced. We have been the voice of our people for centuries, and a country where music is silenced will soon become a graveyard.”

[The names of the interviewees have been changed for their own protection.]

Explosions Target Talibans

Separately, three explosions targeted Taliban vehicles in the eastern provincial capital of Jalalabad on Saturday, killing three people and wounding 20, witnesses said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Islamic State group’s militants, headquartered in the area, are enemies of the Taliban.

The explosion Sunday in Jalalabad was the second attack in two days to target the Taliban in the Islamic State group stronghold. The Taliban and IS extremists are enemies and fought each other even before the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last month.

Hospital officials in Jalalabad said they received the bodies of five people killed in the explosion. Among the dead were two civilians, including a child, and three others who according to witnesses were in a targeted border police vehicle and were believed to be Taliban.

The Taliban were not immediately available for comment about possible casualties among their ranks.

On Saturday, three explosions targeted Taliban vehicles in Jalalabad, killing three people and wounding 20, witnesses said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Witnesses said an explosion targeted a Taliban vehicle in Jalalabad, and hospital officials said five people were killed in the second such deadly blast.

Growing Desperation

In a sign of growing desperation, street markets have sprung up in Kabul where residents are selling their belongings. Some of the sellers are Afghans hoping to leave the country, while others are forced to offer their meager belongings in hopes of getting money for the next meal.

“Our people need help, they need jobs, they need immediate help, they are not selling their household belongings for choice here,” said Kabul resident Zahid Ismail Khan, who was watching the activity in one of the impromptu markets.

“For a short-term people might try to find a way to live, but they would have no other choice to turn to begging in a longer term,” he said.

Hospitals worried over lack of COVID supplies

Hospital officials in Kabul say they are on the brink of a COVID-19 disaster.

The WHO told Reuters at the start of September that hundreds of medical facilities in the country are at risk of imminent closure as donors who provide the financing are not allowed to deal with the new Taliban government.

More than 3.5 million Afghans were already displaced in a country battling drought and the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to UNICEF, less than 4% of the Afghan population is vaccinated.

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