Laura Bea is a sophomore political science major at the University of Miami. Bea, who has a special interest in international affairs, grew up in nearby Weston, Fla. before coming to UM and joining TMH as an opinion columnist this semester.
Would you choose to give up your true identity in exchange for the freedom to engage in everyday activities, earn your own money and experience life outside of your home? Some Afghan girls from families with no male children have been trained by their parents to act as boys in order to live their lives freely, a practice known as “bacha posh.” While the practice dates back decades, the Taliban’s swift and violent takeover of Afghanistan has forced more young girls to begin cross-dressing as males and abandon their identities for basic safety.
When the Taliban assumed control of Afghanistan after American troops were withdrawn from the country, many women were forced to act drastically. The group is known for its strict Shariah law and using violent tactics to maintain power, causing many of the women who couldn’t flee the country to keep out of sight and hide from the public for their safety. The Taliban were even reported to have wanted Afghan women “to stay home from work because [their] soldiers are ‘not trained’ to respect them.”
These changes have led some women to give up the characteristics that define their identities: the length of their hair, the clothes they wear and their names. By adopting a boyish lifestyle, the fear of being sexually assaulted, beaten or killed is somewhat relieved. The activities these young girls and women are able to do under their pseudonyms include going to work and earning their own wages, running simple errands and participating in everyday activities, obtaining an education and participating in sports. After years of a more relaxed social order that modernized the expectations of female Afghans, progress has given way to collapse.
The life of a woman in Afghanistan under Taliban control means a life spent indoors, as women were not to be seen in public during the groups first stint in power from 1996 to 2001. While the extremist government has promised a less severe and modernized version of Islamic rule, it remains to be seen whether this will be the case. So far, the prospects for female education do not look good, as female educators have been banned from weekly Taliban education meetings. Schools for females have yet to reopen after the overthrow of the former regime, while men returned to school Saturday. While Taliban officials have said that education for women will be available to some extent, their actions have said otherwise.
In Afghanistan, the definition of “freedom” is now tainted; the basic rights of expression, identity and activity are fading away. The people of Afghanistan do not have the resources to fight back against a Taliban regime that conquered its predecessor in a matter of months. Our role in the aftermath, as students and American citizens, is limited, but it starts with education. We must not forget what is happening in a country that we spent 20 years trying, and failing, to provide the support needed to build a democracy. We must work together to spread awareness and motivate action, if not from the government, from the people.