KABUL — The Taliban occupation of Kunduz may have been temporary, but what they did to Afghan women’s rights could prove to be lasting.
In a methodical campaign, the Taliban relentlessly hounded women with any sort of public profile, looted a high school, and destroyed the offices of many of the organizations that protected and supported women in Kunduz.
Among those who have fled are the women who ran a shelter for female victims of violence, who Taliban commanders say are “immoral.”
Gone are educated women who worked for the government or international organizations; gone are some women who were school administrators and women who were activists for peace and democracy. They left, mostly at night, on foot or in run-down taxis, hiding under burqas, running for their lives.
“I won’t go back — I will never go back,” said Dr. Hassina Sarwari, the Kunduz province director of Women for Afghan Women, which ran a shelter for abused women, a family guidance center, and a center for the children of women in the Kunduz prison.
After the Taliban completed their campaign of burning and looting women’s organizations, they continued their attacks verbally, by text message and phone calls, threatening women and their relatives, making it clear that the women would remain in their sights.
The Taliban’s message, based on interviews with a half-dozen women who received the warnings after fleeing Kunduz, was that they escaped this time, but that next time they would not be so lucky.
“Before we managed to take control of the shelter, Hassina Sarwari, the head of the shelter house along with all the runaway sluts and immoral girls, had already left Kunduz city,” said Abdul Wali Raghi, a Taliban commander in Kunduz.
“Hassina Sarwari herself is an immoral slut and if we had captured her, she would be hanged in the main circle in Kunduz city,” he added.
If in their publicity statements in recent years the Taliban had sounded moderate, their behavior in Kunduz left little doubt where they stand.
Within the first three days of Taliban occupation, women who ran groups aimed at helping women had their homes and offices looted, their computers stolen, their furniture, televisions, and appliances smashed. Then, the Taliban left messages on their phones, or with relatives, saying, “Return and you will be killed.”
Among the organizations destroyed by the Taliban were three radio stations run by women: One was burned, the other two looted. The Fatima Zahra girls’ high school and the Women’s Empowerment Center, which held social and political awareness sessions and taught women to sew, were also looted.
Women for Afghan Women’s office and children’s center were looted, its computers and cars were stolen, and the organization’s shelter for abused women was completely burned; it also appeared to have been attacked with sledgehammers, the windows shattered, the walls and door frames smashed.
Even amid the broader destruction in Kunduz in the past few days, including dozens of casualties and building damage, the threat against women there was particularly chilling. That is in part because of how rare, and how recent, improvements for Afghan women have been in territories beyond Kabul, the national capital.
“There is psychological damage,” Fiona Gall, chief of Acbar, an umbrella group representing nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan, said of effects on both women’s organizations and smaller groups working in Kunduz.