It was an empty promise. This was what undercover journalist and filmmaker Ramita Navai said about the promise of the Taliban to defend women’s rights according to Islamic law.
Islamic law is seen to implement God’s commands for Muslims. Sharia, which means “the way,” are laws that represent conduct that is intended to guide Muslims.
On what parameters the Taliban implement Sharia remains vague.
One year ago, in August 2021, the Taliban took over Afghanistan as U.S. security forces left the country, marking the end of the 20-year war.
Zabilhullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson, vowed that the new Taliban government would respect women's rights under Islamic law. He assured the public that it would be a different government than in 1990, their previous attempt to rule the country, where girls could not attend school. Women were barred from most employment and practically invisible in society.
After months of waiting for Taliban officials to decide how to send girls back to school, they promptly changed their stance on the issue. They also restricted women to just a few professions and ruled that women must be fully covered in public.
In her documentary, secretly filmed in Afghanistan’s provinces, Navai investigates rumors that young women are being arrested and “disappeared” and that girls are being forced into marriage with Taliban soldiers.
While following leads and conducting interviews, Navai said, “Being a woman can be a brilliant thing in a patriarchal society with men like the Taliban because I was totally overlooked. It’s not often I get excited about being invisible as a woman and overlooked and underestimated; this was one of them.”
Navai found that many missing women had been arrested for “moral crimes,” such as improperly covering themselves and daring to be outside without a male guardian. The Taliban does not keep records of the women’s arrest and incarceration, nor are the families contacted. In many cases, the women just fail to return home. Family members that go to inquire at the prison are turned away.
A Taliban commander allegedly used military helicopter to take newly-wed bride home in Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/JdXddR9UpS
— Hindustan Times (@htTweets) July 4, 2022
Investigating the rumor of forced marriage, Navai found that the Taliban, even in high positions, are indeed abducting girls without the family’s consent or forced consent. Some are showing up with clerics to marry on the spot. Navai said that in every case she came across, family members were beaten when the girls were taken.
Some Afghan women are fighting back. Navai came across some women with improper dress, such as wearing high heels that exposed the ankle. Women told her, “Yeah, we are scared, but this is a form of rebellion.”
There is also an underground network of women who find safe houses for people hunted by the authorities. Two of the women she interviewed in the network were arrested soon after. Both women served a three-month prison sentence and have since fled the country.