By Baber Khan Sahel
Kabul, Aug 3 (EFE).- Afghanistan has taken large strides in the field of women’s rights and empowerment since the fall of the Taliban regime 20 years ago, but now everything could be undone as the Islamist militants rapidly gain ground with foreign troops pulling out of the country.
Fakhria Momtaz, a 44-year-old running a yoga club for women in Kabul, is among the many eyeing the Taliban advance with fear and skepticism.
“If the Taliban come to power that will be really a big shame, a big joke and a big tragedy, not only for the Afghans but for the world, particularly western countries,” Momtaz told EFE.
She underlined that the foreign countries justified their presence in Afghanistan by spending millions of their taxpayers’ money for ideas and values such as “human rights, women rights and democracy.”
“If now a Taliban regime comes back to power, it means they did not believe in the (principles) for which they fought for years here,” she said.
Under the radical Taliban regime, women were obligated to wear hijab or veil in public and not allowed to step out of the house without being accompanied by a male family member and enjoyed almost no social rights. Girls were not permitted to attend school.
Much has changed since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 by the US invasion.
Now, there are 3.5 million girls attending schools, and women account for more than 25 percent of the members of parliament and around 30 percent employees in civil service Institutions, some of them even serving as ministers and ambassadors.
However, concerns have emerged of a Taliban comeback after the militants made unprecedented territorial gains, capturing numerous district centers and even border posts, as they intensified attacks in recent weeks after the pullout of foreign troops.
The final withdrawal of the US and NATO troops, which began on May 1, is expected to be completed by early September.
According to Afghan officials and civil society, the Taliban have already curbed the rights and freedoms of women and girls in areas they have recently captured.
They have once again forbidden women to work outdoors or attend educational institutions, while in some areas they have made it compulsory to wear the hijab and not to go outdoors without being accompanied by a male guardian.
“Taliban have already shown what they do with rights of women in areas they are capturing,” Momtaz said, but warned that a lot has changed in the last two decades and many women would fight back strongly for their rights.
“Women are not ready to go through another dark era of the Taliban,” she insisted, while also admitting that a large number of the educated and empowered women would be left with no choice but to leave the country if the radical group returns to power.
With the Taliban advance, the ominous winds of change have become noticeable in other regions as well, including the capital of Kabul, where Momtaz has received threats from three top religious leaders in the last one year.
The number of women attending her yoga sessions – mostly on the advice of doctors or to cope with stress, anxiety, depression and trauma – has steadily declined in the past few months with the deteriorating security situation.
Among her yoga trainees is Masouma Mosawi, a 29-year-old economics graduate unable to find a job in the war-torn country.
“I am practicing yoga to cope with security concerns, family problems, stress and depression, and to be happy. I know yoga brings me happiness,” she said.
“If you take this tiny happiness of my life then, for what reason I should live here, then Afghanistan will be no more than a graveyard for women,” she said.