By Ali Ahmad
Vienna: The United Nations has declared the 25th of November as the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women. This is also the first day of the 16 days of activism campaign to end gender-based violence. This campaign culminates on the 10th of December, which is International Human Rights Day. Since its inception in 2008, the campaign aims to advocate for the rights of women, increase awareness of violence against women and tackle the challenges that women face globally.
According to data collected from 13 countries by UN Women, nearly one in three women aged 15 or above reported being a victim of physical or sexual violence by their intimate partner or by someone they know. It is reported that 33,6 precentof Afghan girls and women above the age of 15 have experienced violence by a partner.
In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, a group of women from the Austrian Left political party, “LINKS” in collaboration with several Afghan diaspora associations organized a protest in Vienna’s Stephansplatz to show their solidarity to the Afghan women and the LGBTQIA+ community in Afghanistan. The Vienna-based diaspora organizations included Afghan Cultural Association (AKIS), Afghan Global Civil Society Organization (AGCSO) and the Katib Center.
Since the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban in August, the de facto rulers of Afghanistan have imposed severe restrictions on women’s rights to work and education. The LGBTQIA+ community is at even greater risk, and the Taliban will not recognize this vulnerable group under any circumstances based on their religious interpretation.
On the 25th of November, dozens of Afghan diaspora, members of the ‘LINKS’ party and many supporters gathered in Vienna to express their solidarity with the Afghan women who have been suppressed by the Taliban since they regained power 20 years after they were ousted by the U.S. troops in 2001. The protesters delivered supporting speeches, played live Afghan music and slammed the Taliban on mistreating Afghan women.
The protest had three additional demands; they called on Europe to provide safe passages for women who wish to leave Afghanistan, admission of people at risk, and called on Taliban to stop violence against women and LGBTQIA+. The protesters carried banners that read, ‘solidarity with women and LGBTQIA+ in Afghanistan’, ‘Afghan Women Matter’, ‘No business with the Taliban’ among several other slogans.
Rights of Afghan women at risk
The 29 year old leader of the LINKS party, Anna Svec, criticized the western political mindset for its intervention in Afghanistan that eventually paved the way for the Taliban’s return to power. She said that the international solidarity means support for everyone. Svec also criticized the EU member states on how they treat refugees and migrants in Europe and on its borders.
Gawhar Musleh, 30, the head of women’s section at AKIS asked the protesters to raise their voice against violence against Afghan women. The lives of Afghan women have come under enormous threat since the Taliban came into power in August, Musleh said in her address to over 100 participants of the demonstration. She called on women to continue to raise their voice for their rights regardless of who in power is.
“Afghanistan is proof of how quickly our human rights can be abrogated and our lives extinguished. That is why we must continue to listen to what Afghan women have to say, no matter what. The world needs to listen to our voices because Afghan women deserve a better life like everyone else,” said Musleh.
From the Katib Center, the 18 year old Suhaila Rezaee, slammed the Taliban for violating Afghan women and minorities’ rights including her ethnic group, Hazaras. Rezaee accused the Taliban for forming a single-ethnic government and excluding other ethnicities from their unrecognized government. She warned the Austrian government to avoid recognizing the “terrorist” Taliban as Afghanistan’s government. “Anyone who has common sense must not accept ‘terrorists’ as a government,” she said.
“The radical ‘Islamic Emirate’ has robbed our culture, women’s rights and they have robbed women of their right to education,” Rezaee stated.
From the Austrian activists, Sigrid Spenger who attends many of these events to support the Afghan refugees and migrants in Vienna, said that the Taliban are “hell” for Afghan women. “Anyone who denies it, is lying”, said Spenger.
During her speech, Spenger raised her concern about the clear violation of women’s rights by the Taliban since they came to power in August. The de facto Taliban authorities replaced the Ministry of Women’s Affairs with the Ministry of “Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” under the new Taliban political and security order in Afghanistan. “This is a particularly ominous development as this institution was responsible for serious human rights violation against women during the first Taliban government in the 1990s,” Spenger reminded the protesters.
Afghanistan has been grappling both with economic and humanitarian crisis, but it got worse since the Taliban took power in mid-August. Amongst these multi-layered crises, Afghan women are the most vulnerable group in Afghanistan. During the protest on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, all speakers in Vienna’s protest demanded that European countries provide support to women in Afghanistan. They also called on E.U. politicians to bring female judges, activists, lawyers, journalists and LGBTQIA+ and their families to safety without bureaucratic obstacles.
The Taliban are yet to respond to the anti-Taliban demonstrations in western countries organized by Afghan diaspora since they came into power in August 2021.