President Joe Biden promised in his program to “protect and empower women around the world.” He also made sure to name a woman as his number two (who, at the same time, belonged to one, two or three minorities) and thus, with a couple of trivial gestures, presented himself as a standard-bearer for the feminist cause. With his sloppy withdrawal from Afghanistan, the president unraveled in a few moments the commitment he had undertaken.
The life of Afghan women has not been particularly easy, with short periods of “progress.”For instance, King Amanullah Khan (1919 – 1929) notoriously abolished child marriage, forced marriage and increased restrictions on polygamy. Yet, being a woman in Afghanistan has always been a synonymous of oppression. Even so, in these last two decades, and despite the incessant violence, the American presence in the country guaranteed respect for certain basic rights, such as universal suffrage, the non-obligatory wearing of the veil and certain educational freedoms.
All this disappeared on Sunday, August 15, when the Taliban took over Kabul thanks to Joe Biden. The country will undoubtedly return to the obscurantism of the past, and those who will suffer most are those whom the American president promised to protect.
Women will be the main victims
A Kabul resident, who asked to remain anonymous, recounts in The Guardian that already on Sunday morning, in an attempt to return from the university, she was unable to use public transport and that “the drivers would not let us in their cars because they did not want to take responsibility for transporting a woman.” She further recalls that “the men standing around were making fun of girls and women, laughing at our terror. “Go and put on your chadari [burqa],” one called out. “It is your last days of being out on the streets,” said another. “I will marry four of you in one day,” said a third.”
The situation is desperate and urgent. Nearly half of the Afghan population is made up of women (15 million men, 14.2 million women). All of them will disappear overnight. They are disappearing today, as you read this article.
As the witness says: “I worked for so many days and nights to become the person I am today, and this morning when I reached home, the very first thing my sisters and I did was hide our IDs, diplomas and certificates.”
The impact of the Taliban coming to power is immediate: “I feel like I am the victim of this political war that men started. I felt like I can no longer laugh out loud, I can no longer listen to my favourite songs, I can no longer meet my friends in our favourite cafe, I can no longer wear my favourite yellow dress or pink lipstick. And I can no longer go to my job or finish the university degree that I worked for years to achieve,” the Afghan student says.
It is not just access to health or education that is at stake. Any manifestation of social life is now a faded memory. “I loved doing my nails. Today, as I was on my way home, I glanced at the beauty salon where I used to go for manicures. The shop front, which had been decorated with beautiful pictures of girls, had been whitewashed overnight,” explains this anonymous source.
“Afghan women sacrificed a lot for the little freedom they had. As an orphan I weaved carpets just to get an education. I faced a lot of financial challenges, but I had a lot of plans for my future. I have to burn everything I achieved in 24 years of my life. Having any ID card or awards from the American University is risky now; even if we keep them, we are not able to use them. There are no jobs for us in Afghanistan,” she said.
The 24-year-old student details the surprise of this dramatic outcome. “My sisters and I could not sleep all night, remembering the stories my mother used to tell us about the Taliban era and the way they treated women. I did not expect that we would be deprived of all our basic rights again and travel back to 20 years ago. That after 20 years of fighting for our rights and freedom, we should be hunting for burqas and hiding our identity,” she added in despair.
Biden will not be able to hide the enormous weight of his betrayal easily. We must not let that happen; we as women, we as human beings. All this ignominy must fall on the shoulders of the president, who can’t pass for a feminist just by pointing the finger at Harris or in an eventual meeting with Malala. The damage (irreparable, immeasurable, dishonorable) has been done, and it was done by the president of the United States.