By Melissa ‘Lissy’ Alderton

After 20 years of war and conflict, the Taliban are in control of Afghanistan – this is a major event in our lifetime. Since the start of the 2000s, we have seen many notable and tragic incidences, not to mention living through a pandemic. But what is and has been happening in Afghanistan is worse. The most important thing right now is the lives of the people living there and what they’ve been through.

In 2001, the US forces came to Afghanistan triggered by the events of September 11th in the same year. This has been the US’ longest ever war, lasting an astonishing two decades. 9/11 put Afghanistan on the United States’ radar. It was reported that 19 hijackers had been involved, some of them being trained in Afghanistan. Firstly, a specialised CIA team known as Jawbreaker was deployed into Afghanistan, this was firstly about targeting the Taliban. The Taliban are a movement believing in extremist beliefs within Islamic law. These laws were extremely gruelling and inhumane, all accompanied by the welcoming of Osama Bin Laden as well as the disagreement in women’s education and expression. The UK joined the US forces in November the same year and within the same month the Taliban retreated without a struggle. Undoubtedly, the end of Taliban power in December was the highpoint of that year. The Taliban as well as Al-Qaeda fled to parts of Pakistan, but in March 2002 this is where not just US and Afghan forces fought the opponents but other countries such as Australia and Canada (to name a few) joined in to support the United States. In April 2002 it was about restoring Afghanistan and keeping peace in the region. After that however, Barack Obama led a new strategy in 2009 involving more troops. Since then, there has been an on-going war as well as peace keeping strategies.

But Afghanistan hasn’t always been war ridden. Afghanistan has a conservative culture and has a vast heritage. Religion has always played a dominant role, and this has led to many garments being loose fitting, partnered with head coverings (Chadors) for women. In the 1960s, wearing head coverings was optional, but because of the ever-growing conservative values, this has now transformed, every woman will habitually wear one as it is as seen as a generalised respect in the region. Afghanistan has a rich literary heritage, which a lot of people outside of it are unaware of, with Herāt being the capital and complete centre of Persian literature. As well as this though, Afghan poet Khushḥāl Khan Khaṭak is the inventor of Pashto literature.

Hasina Aimaq, an Afghan fashion designer created modern looks for the women of Afghanistan. (Photo credit: Hasina Design – Facebook)

Afghan garments have always been conservative, even without Taliban rule. Women will often favour baggy clothes, keeping modesty as the underlying trend. Prior to the recent Taliban ruling, young Afghans were attracted to wearing more western clothing, this is tremendously incredible as such a country has been controlled for numerous years. Afghanistan has been through so much, so for many this was an expression of enlightenment in many ways – showing a new generation, reformed and balanced, despite everything going on.

Now that the Taliban are in power however, this is a huge hindrance on not only civilians’ ability to be themselves, their whole reality and existence has now been turned upside down in a way none of us in the West will ever understand. It is incomparable to anything – to go through this as your life is something which shouldn’t be overlooked. The Taliban’s beliefs on women are abysmal to say the least. Education for girls and women is not acceptable, and to add to this, women are not permitted to work like their male peers. In relation to freedom of expression within fashion, this is not allowed under Taliban rule. Women are expected to cover themselves, requiring them to wear Burkas (a modesty garment which covers a woman from the head to the ankles) in public whilst being accompanied by a male guardian.

Members of the Taliban stand at the site of the execution of three men in Ghazni Province April 18, 2015. Photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer

Now these aren’t just preferences of the Taliban, these are laws. Anyone going against Sharia law is punishable by execution. So, women’s freedom in their own existence would be taken away from them, they cannot express themselves in any way, falling into the trap of control by the Taliban. Women will have to follow the rules of dress codes and in addition will be forced to internalise their own beliefs and need for normal lives. Women will not be able to dance, smile, or even be photographed – transforming into prisoners in their own country. Now will these predictions be the case, as they were the last time the Taliban were in power? We cannot say for certain, thus far we can say it won’t be favourable for women in any sense. Women’s liberation and freedom is important. A gender that, for the longest time, has always been controlled and brought down. Now, expression comes in many forms, but the way a woman dresses says a lot about her character. What will the women of Afghanistan do now, not just in relation to this but in relation to their human rights? There is a large chance that they can no longer be themselves; they can no longer live until their hearts’ content. Beforehand, many were opting for modest western clothing as it was an ever-changing community of people who were growing to be comfortable with expression, but now its in danger. Advertisements containing women’s photographs are being covered up and the fashion and beauty industry is ceasing to exist – modern fashion as we know it will be obsolete in the region and so forth comes a refined control of the way women dress. It’s more than just being able to wear what you want, though. It’s deeper than that and it’s their humanity on the line that comes with being told to dress a certain way. But how can we help? Keeping ourselves aware and understand the ever-changing situation for not only women but the people of Afghanistan in general is imperative; everyone’s’ lives are changing. There are many charities devoted to this cause and many other useful things to involve ourselves in. Here are a few below.

Help Families in Afghanistan | International Rescue Committee

Afghanistan crisis: donate now – Unicef UK

Women For Afghan Women

Malala Fund | Working for a world where all girls can learn and lead

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