What haunts me about Afghanistan’s women

A photograph from this last week stays in my head: it’s a Taliban fighter with his gun slung over his shoulder walking past a closed beauty salon in Afghanistan.


Behind him, the women on the salon windows have been spray-painted out, their eyes scribbled to black nothings, their mouths sealed up with paint.

It’s exactly how patriarchal extremists wish the world to be, with women unvoiced, unseeing, unseen, behind locked doors.

Say what you like about the Taliban, but this isn’t about Islam – it’s about men who fear women, who desire women, who hate women.

It’s about men who don’t get laid when women are independent, because they’re creeps.

This is about men who think women are less than they are, who prefer it if women are empty vessels made for whatever they want to do with them, be it filling them with sperm, putting them on pedestals, or smashing them to pieces.

This is about shutting women up. It’s about taking away their choices, their prospects, their freedom, until all they have is what you allow them. It’s about men who cannot, will not, control themselves, so control others instead.

I keep thinking about the Afghan women I’ve read about in the last few days:

The student who wrote an anonymous piece about leaving college for the final time last week, and the men outside laughing at her and her friends, saying “tomorrow I will marry four of you,” as they went home to hide their diplomas;

The teacher saying goodbye to little girls who wouldn’t be at school the next day, or the next year, little girls whose education had just hit a wall;

The women walking home from jobs they excelled at, knowing they couldn’t go back tomorrow, while today no taxi would pick them up for fear of being alone with a dreaded female;

The Afghan women’s football team burning their kit, deleting their social media posts;

The former street child who became the first female conductor in Afghanistan, her all-women orchestra now silenced;

All the unveiled women frantically searching for scarves to cover their sinful faces;

And every single female now reduced to the living embodiment of those beauty salon eyes, locked in, blacked out.

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