August 15, 2022

Undercover journalist finds Taliban kidnapping, imprisoning women in Afghanistan

9 min read

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A girl sits in front of a bakery in a crowd with Afghan women waiting to take bread in Kabul on January 31, 2022.

Ali Khara/Reuters

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Ali Khara/Reuters

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A girl sits in front of a bakery in a crowd with Afghan women waiting to take bread in Kabul on January 31, 2022.

Ali Khara/Reuters

In August 2021, shortly after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid held a press conference in which he vowed that the rebels would protect women’s rights in accordance with Islamic law. Filmmaker Ramita Navai says it was a hollow promise.

,[The Taliban] Knew that the world was watching, watching, and that women’s rights to the world were a litmus test of their rule and how they approach human rights, “says of the Nawai Mujahid’s press conference. Of course, it didn’t take long for the world to realize that they weren’t as reformist as they pretended to be.”

Nawai describes Taliban’s treatment of women in new PBS Frontline documentary, Afghanistan Undercover, On which he started researching in early 2020.

“I began to look at the ground [the Taliban] and what was happening to women in the area they were occupying. And it was horrifying,” Navai says. “I almost wanted to make a documentary as a reminder: Listen, everybody, this is what’s happening.”

The documentary was filmed outside the capital, Kabul, in one of the provinces of Afghanistan, where action on women’s rights has been particularly harsh. Since coming to power, the Taliban have broken their promise to allow girls to continue their schooling beyond sixth grade. With few exceptions, women are no longer allowed to work. When out on the road, they are expected to be covered from head to toe with only an opening for their eyes. Many girls and women are disappearing – arrested for violating a code of ethics or kidnapping and forcibly married to marry one of the Taliban.

Nawai, who is British, laments the fact that she was born in Iran and can pass as Afghan, allowing her to blend in on the streets of Afghanistan and gain access to places that would otherwise be off the border. may be out. Being a woman helped too, she says.

“It can be a wonderful thing to be a woman in a patriarchal society with men like the Taliban, because I was completely overlooked,” she says. “Too often I don’t get excited about being invisible as a woman and get overlooked and underestimated. This was one of them.”

Nawai was filmed in Afghanistan in November 2021 and again in March this year, and saw the status of women in the country worsen between her two visits – a fact that she was traveling from Afghanistan to Ukraine to attract world attention. are responsible for.

“The exact same thing we said to so many women, ‘No one cares about Afghanistan anymore because of Ukraine. And we’re really scared now more than ever because there’s no stopping and balancing on these guys,'” she said. says.

interview highlights

What he learned when he talked to women and girls in prison

[The women and girls are] There they were for moral crimes, for so-called moral crimes, and they were all in prison since the Taliban came to power. Of course, when the Taliban took power, they emptied all prisons across the country. So all these women are in jail since the acquisition. And the second thing we found out – and we found out through women and their families – was that their cases were not officially registered. So they were just sucked into this black hole because there was no official record of them, they just disappeared. Slowly, their families came to know where they were and their families started talks for release. But of course, there were absolutely no records as the Taliban were trying to keep these female captives a secret from the world – and they still are.

On women and girls being kidnapped and forced to marry Taliban fighters

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Filmmaker Ramita Navai says being a woman was an asset while filming the documentary Afghanistan Undercover: “It can be a wonderful thing to be a woman in a patriarchal society with men like the Taliban, because I was completely overlooked.”


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ncfw screen grabs 1.2.1 1 5907354ddf1c33b720fc725265658798bda3392b s1200

Filmmaker Ramita Navai says being a woman was an asset while filming the documentary Afghanistan Undercover: “It can be a wonderful thing to be a woman in a patriarchal society with men like the Taliban, because I was completely overlooked.”


Forced marriages are very different from the cultural phenomenon in Afghanistan, and this is where parents give their daughters to families for marriage, and is a common practice. They get the bride price. And the family …. work together, agree together, and it usually doesn’t matter to the daughter.

But what is happening now is that the Taliban is kidnapping women and girls and taking them without the consent of the family, without the bride price. And what usually happens, the pattern that it usually follows, is that even a Taliban fighter or a Taliban commander – because we have uncovered evidence that this was happening at higher levels within the Taliban – to a woman who Will see or hear whom they want to marry. Too often it’s because there’s actually a beautiful, attractive young woman or girl they’ve heard of or seen in the market, and they approach the family and they try the first official route – into marriage. Ask for a hand

When the family says no, they kidnap the girl. So they will change with reinforcement. Sometimes they come with Maulvi and get married, getting Maulvi married on the spot. And often the girl is taken away and the family does not have access to her. Often the family is beaten up in the process, because of course, the male members of the family will protest. And I think, again, every single case that I came across was family members being beaten up when girls were taken. … It was almost impossible to talk to any of these girls because they are under lock and key.

How some women are rebelling against the strict dress code enforced by the Taliban

I was quite surprised, in fact, in Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan, the women there dressed very boldly, and it really took me by surprise. And I talked to some of those women, took them aside and said, “Look, you’re wearing really high heels. I can see your ankles. You’re wearing a lot of makeup. Your hair sticks out from your scarf. Are you falling. How do you dare? Aren’t you scared?” And they said, “Yeah, we’re scared, but it’s a form of rebellion.”

And it really reminded me of Iran. In Iran, when I was reporting there 10, 15 years ago, you could get whipped for bad hijab. If you apply too much make-up, you can get whipped. And yet everyone, all the girls would go out to show off their hair and show off their makeup, and that was the youth’s way of revolting. and youth A one-finger salute to a system, an ideology they did not agree with. And it was really fun talking to these young Afghan women and girls in this province in northern Afghanistan who were running out of borders, who dare to leave the house open, which reminded me of what was happening in Iran. Was and youth in Iran.

On a women-led underground network of safe homes to help Afghan women

He used to get calls from desperate women and families across the country. So it was almost an underground railway network, and they needed shelter. In such a situation, many times families have to migrate. The Taliban were hunting them. And what was interesting was that these young women who were running this network of secret safe houses were also on the run from the Taliban. So they were working under the radar and undercover all the time, risking their lives to help families who survived the Taliban.

Feather Sharp rise in suicides among Afghan women – and why they go unreported

Afghanistan is one of the few countries where suicide rates were higher among women than men. This is one of the few countries in the world where this is true. But what we are seeing now is a really sharp increase in suicides across the country. So we are seeing the real effects of the Taliban regime. And there are those who say that women were always forced into marriage and many women were not allowed to come out of their homes. Well, some of this is true. … The lives of many women in rural areas have not changed much since the Taliban came to power. You know what has changed is a loss of hope. ,

I spoke to several women living in rural villages, they knew that somewhere far away in Kabul, say, progress had been made, there was hope that things were changing, even if it was at a snail’s pace, that if they Ended up in jail, then there was a judicial process and now she is gone. And to see the effect of it, in this one hospital, when I was there, there are cases of suicide every day. And by the way, doctors tell me that many of these cases are not being registered because the Taliban have won. Doctors should not be allowed to record these cases, because they do not want the world to know that the suicide rate is on the rise.

The doctors also told me that where the victims are families of Talibis, doctors are instructed not to record those cases. Hence not all cases are being registered. So in fact, the suicide rate is far higher than official records show. In addition, several doctors told me that they were regularly beaten and bullied.

Why did she want to focus on women’s rights?

When you have rooted in patriarchy, you have misogyny, and you have high rates of violence and sexual violence against women, and you have complete hypocrisy. And where there are no rights for women, there are no human rights. Women’s rights are human rights. And I get really frustrated when you talk about women’s rights, and often men in positions of power will reject women’s rights. “Oh, there are more important things to worry about. You have internal politics and you’re worried about women’s rights!” We saw this happen in Iran when there was a revolution and hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets against the hijab. She was also told by liberals and leftists and secularists, “Get back to your box. Shut up. There’s a big revolution going on here, ladies. Now is not the time to go on about the hijab and women’s rights.”

And this is absolutely wrong, because women’s rights is a litmus test for human rights, it is a litmus test of good governance, how a society is safe and runs itself. And what I find very frustrating is that we are told that it is not interesting, that it is not important, and that it is important.

Amy Salit and Seth Kelly produced and edited the audio for this interview. Bridget Bentz and Molly CV-Nasper adapted it for the web.

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