Women's Rights, Including Education, Are In Peril Under Taliban Rule

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Women's Rights, Including Education, Are In Peril Under Taliban Rule
Since the Taliban's takeover, women have been denied basic rights, including enough food, the right to work and the ability to finish their education.

Journalist Hizbullah Khan has captured images of women trapped in cages and fighting for food in his home of Afghanistan. 

"Currently, the Taliban are using women's rights for their bargaining," Khan said.

He calls it a glimpse of everyday life since the Taliban's takeover last fall.    

"They don't have any source to feed their children, to feed themselves, so the economic crisis is unprecedented," Khan said.

There's a nationwide hunger crisis, with women taking the brunt. According to the U.N., 100% of female-led households aren't getting enough to eat.

Many women are now unable to work; female employment in the country is expected to drop to 28% or lower this year.   

"A lot of women are breadwinners to their families, and depriving them of their right to work will also deprive a whole family of their right to eat, their right to survive," Aisha Khurram said. 

Khurram is a United Nations youth representative and college student in Berlin, Germany. She fled her home in Afghanistan to continue her studies.   

"I left the day when the Kabul airport was attacked," Khurram said. "At that night, I left by road, and I crossed through each provinces, and it took me two days and two nights."

The women that remain have been denied basic rights, including education.

The Taliban has walked back a promise to allow all girls beyond sixth grade to return to school in March, citing a lack of space to keep genders separate.  

According to a report from the Afghanistan Analyst Network, what exists now is spotty, with girls in some provinces back in the classroom, but not all.  

"In most rural parts of the countries, what made young people be easily recruited by insurgent groups was the lack of education and job opportunities," Khurram said.

In March, the U.S. joined a host of nations pledging $204 million in additional humanitarian aid while calling for women's right to learn.

However, a report from U.N. advisers blames the humanitarian crisis partly on the U.S. for withholding billions of dollars in assets — something the State Department calls inaccurate.

"They say if you educate a man, you're just educating a person, but if you're educating a woman, you're educating the family and possibly a generation," Wazhma Ayoubi said.

Ayoubi is an Afghan native, activist and entrepreneur who uses her textile company to employ women in the country while living abroad.  

"I'm also working with a group of friends to build an online school so that the women and girls that cannot go to school, they could attend school online and we have these classes for them," Ayoubi said.

She isn't alone — other activists are spreading education to women, despite the risk.  

But there are threats for men's education, too. Schools with large Hazara Muslim populations have been the target of bombings, killing dozens last week alone.

"Hazaras are being killed while they're worshiping, while they're praying, and they're just an ethnic minority, very peaceful people," Ayoubi said. "They don't deserve this."

Activists inside the country are losing another battle — the war of words.   

Khan uses social media to get the word out, but it's risky.  

"If you record the brutal policies of the Taliban, the Taliban will find you, they will capture you, then they will torture you and then they will kill you," Khan said.

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently addressed the lack of international attention.

"All attention to Ukraine is very important, of course, because it affects the whole world, but even a fraction of it is not being given to Tigrey, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and the rest," Ghebreyesus said.

Khan says he doesn't blame the West; he blames the Taliban. But he is frustrated, saying he feels abandoned by fellow journalists.  

"They are living in the hell, and they they have the power to take out these from people the hell," Khan said.

Khurram says while she misses her native land, being abroad does give her the freedom to speak.

"I cannot stay silent, and I owe that country that gave me so much, that made me who I am today," Khurram said.

She is one part of a new generation that has tasted democracy and won't let go.