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As Taliban advance, Afghan businesswomen fear ‘dark era’ will return

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KABUL (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As the Taliban progress rapidly across Afghanistan, designer Marzia Hafizi is worried about the survival of her fashion business and the gains made by women over the past 20 years.

Hafizi, 29, opened her clothing store Lora in the capital Kabul in 2018, fulfilling a long-held dream of becoming a businesswoman in her conservative male-dominated country – a feat unthinkable under the 1996 Taliban regime. to 2001.

If the Taliban return to power and impose their old dark mentality, I might be forced to leave, Hafizi said, because of whirring machines as tailors and tailors cut, sew and iron his latest designs.

All my friends and family advise me to quit and leave the country (but) my determination to promote women’s businesses, create jobs for them and see a self-sufficient Afghanistan keeps me here and fighting to survive.

The Taliban applied a strict interpretation of Islamic law, which included public lashes, flogging and stoning, until they were overthrown by US shelling in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. United States.

As US-led foreign forces complete their withdrawal, the Taliban have made rapid territorial gains, causing women to fear a decline in their rights, from education and work to freedom of movement.

During the Taliban’s rule, women were required to cover their body and face with a burqa, and were excluded from school, work, or leaving home without a male parent.

Activists say they have changed and that Islam gives women rights in business, work, inheritance and education, but gave few details, saying only it would be decided under Islamic Sharia law , fueling skepticism in many women.

The government has pledged not to compromise on women’s rights in exchange for peace, but talks between the Taliban and Afghan politicians have not progressed.

U.S. National Intelligence Council analysts predicted losses for women even without a Taliban victory, attributing women’s recent gains to external pressure rather than internal support.

Fawzia Koofi is one of the few female negotiators in the peace talks between Afghan politicians – who have vowed not to compromise on women’s rights – and the Taliban.

The resistance Afghan women have, we will not start from scratch, said Koofi, who has survived two assassination attempts.

We will do everything to maintain the presence of women in society and in political and social life … we will not go back to the dark past.

KILL ME OR LET ME WORK

Women have made significant strides in the past two decades, and an increasing number of women are completing their education and working in previously male strongholds including politics, media, justice, hospitality and IT.

In cities like Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif, young women can be seen walking freely, using their smartphones, wearing Western clothes and mingling with men in cafes and malls.

President Ashraf Ghani has appointed female vice-governors in all provinces and assigned them ministerial roles.

Women hold 27% of seats in the lower house of parliament, thanks to a quota – exceeding the world average of 25%, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Women own nearly 60,000 businesses, mostly in Kabul, including restaurants, salons and craft shops, according to the Afghan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Those who spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation said they had gone too far to have their achievements stolen.

Whatever the circumstances, I will not give up my job, said Nilofar Ayubi, 28, who runs an interior design company, Maria Clothing, popular with Kabul’s elite.

If the Taliban come back (to power), they will either have to kill me or let me continue my work.

In rural areas, where conservative families and radical Islamists reign, most women still wear the burqas and only leave home for hospital and family visits, and young girls continue to be sold as wives to older men.

There is so much more to be done to extend basic rights to health and education to rural women, not just in areas controlled by the Taliban, but in all remote towns and villages, said Nezam Uddin, responsible for Peace and Human Rights. Organization.

People are still far behind in terms of development and services, even compared to Kabul, not to mention the standards of countries in the region.

Massoma Jafari, 23, who sells jewelry and makeup in Kabul, said she knew the price women would have to pay if activists took national power.

I come from Ghor where many women have been stoned to death by the Taliban in the past. But look at me, I symbolize resistance, Jafari said, referring to a western province where the Taliban forced Afghan troops to retreat last month.

We hope and pray to Allah that the dark era of the Taliban never returns, Jafari said as he adjusted a veil covering his head.

Reporting by Shadi Khan Saif, Additional reporting and writing by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org

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