Anyone who pays any attention at all to the news is rarely surprised to see evidence of women’s oppression, but recent events have made even the most cynical take notice.
In Afghanistan, weeks of fear and chaos have been especially devastating for women. With the ultra-religious Taliban taking control of the country in the wake of the U.S. military’s departure, girls and women are expecting the worst. While Islam as a religion protects the rights of women and children, the militant Taliban regime of previous years acted on a deeply misogynist ideology of male dominance they said was based in faith. It kept most girls out of school and made many women prisoners in their own homes by banning them from working. When they were allowed in public, women had to be accompanied by a male relative and wear a voluminous burqa that covered everything but their hands, with a small rectangle for their eyes. Despite the Taliban’s insistence that it wanted to keep women safe, its members committed rape and facilitated forced marriages, and reduced widows to dire poverty with begging their only source of income.
How the 2021 version of the Taliban will treat women is not clear. Although the regime has promised to respect women’s rights (within its interpretation of Islamic law), no one is optimistic that the gains women and girls experienced over the past 20 years can be retained.
One of the country’s first female mayors, Zarifa Ghafari, was able to escape to Germany late in August, but others have not been so fortunate—in a heartbreaking statement, another female mayor said she was simply marking time until the Taliban came for her. Many women who were leaders in government, education and various professions have gone into hiding.
And lest we think the oppression of women’s rights in the name of religion is something that only happens on the other side of the world, Texas recently made abortion functionally illegal in the state, placing extreme restrictions on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to block the legislation, which empowers ordinary Texans to sue anyone who performs an abortion or helps a woman who is seeking one.
“We are celebrating this and thanking God for the blessing of this law,” said the vice president of a Texas right to life organization. Of course not all Christians would agree with her; the religious right only took abortion up as a cause in the 1980s—before that, it was not seen as other people’s business. And indeed, after the Texas law passed, many people of faith immediately offered to help women affected by the new law.
Although the recent news has been bad on many fronts when it comes to women’s rights, there’s also hope to be found in the strength of the women opposing such restrictions, and in the support of those of all genders, faiths and identities willing to help them. As Martin Luther King so profoundly said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
By Nancy Payne