Taliban edicts galvanise Afghan women to fight
KHOJA BAHAWUDDIN, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Faranos Nazir is ready for a fight and says thousands of Afghan women are tired of the mediaeval treatment at the hands of the hardline Taliban that has left them living in jail-like conditions.
The Taliban decree women be shrouded head-to-toe in the burqa, plus their refusal to educate girls or allow women to leave their homes without a male relative have galvanised Afghan women into opposition, and created a nascent bid for action, she said.
"They make us upset. They make us very strong to fight against this fanaticism," Nazir told Reuters in her white-washed house on the edge of Khoja Bahawuddin in northern Afghanistan in the heart of territory controlled by the opposition Northern Alliance.
"Because of the Taliban, Afghanistan has become a jail for women. We haven't got any human rights. We haven't the right to go outside, to go to work, to look after our children. On the Taliban side we haven't even the right to go to the doctor. We always need permission," she said.
The 34-year-old electrical engineer who trained in the former Soviet Ukraine speaks in a calm, soft voice as she lists what she calls the injustices of the Taliban regime bent on imposing their own strict interpretation of a Muslim system modelled on a 1,300-year-old Islamic Utopia.
Her voice then rises when she talks about the fight ahead.
"I hope our women can fight. We have strong women and they are fighting against the terror," she said.
"I will fight," she says, laughing at her choice of words as bombs rain down on several towns in Afghanistan as the opposition Northern Alliance advances against the Taliban, and U.S.-led air strikes hit targets of the hardline movement in other parts of the country.
Nazir started a women's association earlier this year, inviting women from across northern Afghanistan to talk about education, health and employment in an open forum that attracted more than 1,000.
It was a small victory for a woman who has been treated as a foreigner because of her refusal to wear a burqa, preferring a simple purple headscarf.
"At first many women thought they could not work, but now many of them do," she says, sitting next to her 10-year-old daughter.
She said it was not just the stern beliefs of the ruling Taliban, but also traditional attitudes of men in the north that she and other women were fighting against.
"It's less (of a jail in Northern Alliance territory) because we can work with some NGOs (non-governmental organisations), we can work as a teacher and our children can go to school," she said.
Northern Alliance foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah told reporters on Tuesday in Khoja Bahawuddin that women should be included in any future administration.
"The people of Afghanistan should be able to enjoy their rights and the eradication of terrorism from Afghanistan is the main role," he said.
Nazir, who said she tries not to draw attention to herself and refuses to leave her home after dark, says many women still wear the veil in fear the Taliban will advance north and punish those who fail to cover their faces.
She said a serious problem was a lack of education and opportunities for education that had left women poorly off in their battle against traditional biases.
"They are afraid from this tradition, from the Taliban. They think if the Taliban capture this area maybe they will kill us because we are not wearing the burqa," she said.
"It would be very bad if the Taliban came here. I hope they don't," said Nazir, who fled the capital, Kabul, for Pakistan before the Taliban seized it in 1996.
The Taliban, who command about 90 percent of Afghanistan, have refused to give up fugitive Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect behind attacks on U.S. landmarks last month.
Nazir says she fears for her two children and what future they will have in a war-torn, poverty-stricken country.
"I am like any other woman here. I cry for my children because they have no education here," she said.
"I don't know about their future ... No one thinks about the children. It's a tragedy," she said.
She said whatever type of post-Taliban government is formed, it must make tough decisions that counter traditional thinking to protect the rights of women.
"If another government came in Kabul they must be democrats and they must give us democratic rules -- for us all," she said.
"Somebody must take a risk for women's rights and their freedom."
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