'Leave your job or we will cut your head off your body...'

With violence on the rise, Afghan women are terrified at the prospect of a deal between President Karzai and the Taliban

Women in Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan say they are once again being threatened, attacked and forced out of jobs and education as fears rise that their rights will be sacrificed as part of any deal with insurgents to end the war in Afghanistan.

Women have reported attacks and received letters warning of violence if they continue to work or even contact radio stations to request songs.

One female teacher at a girls' school in a southern Afghan province received a letter saying: "We warn you to leave your job as a teacher as soon as possible otherwise we will cut off the heads of your children and will set fire to your daughter."

Another woman, Jamila, was threatened in August 2009, in a letter bearing the Taliban's insignia when she was working for a local electoral commission. It said: "You work in the election office together with the enemies of religion and infidels. You should leave your job otherwise we will cut your head off your body."

Jamila ignored the letter, but days later her father was murdered. She left her job and moved house.

Activists are fearful that their rights will be sold out in a deal between the Taliban or other insurgent groups and the US-backed Afghan government. They believe that if the Taliban is given a share in power, women will again be reduced to a condition close to slavery, as when the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan in 1996-2001. Then, women could not leave their house without a close male relative and had to cover their faces and bodies with an all-enveloping burka or chadori.

Women, who had made up 70 per cent of teachers and 50 per cent of civil servants, were banned from working except in healthcare. Even as medical workers, there were severe restrictions and many women died either in childbirth or from disease because of lack of medical attention. The UN estimated that only 3 per cent of girls received primary education under Taliban rule.

With the war reaching a stalemate over the last year, Afghan and foreign leaders have prepared the ground for talks with insurgents by claiming they are more moderate and pragmatic than the Taliban government overthrown in 2001. The head of the International Security Assistance Forces' reintegration unit, Lt-General Graeme Lamb, said: "Who are these Taliban? They are local people. The vast majority are guns for hire; not fighting for some ideological reason."

The idea that the present day Taliban is less hostile to women than the old is contradicted by the experiences of women in Taliban-held districts. A report by Human Rights Watch – based on interviews with 90 women in districts largely held by insurgents in four different provinces – shows that women are being deprived of all rights.

The report, entitled The 'Ten Dollar Talib' and Women's Rights: Afghan Women and the Risks of Reintegration and Reconciliation, is released this week. It says the belief that new Taliban has emerged influenced by money rather than ideology is wrong.

It criticises the idea of the "Ten Dollar Talib" who fights for money, as an attempt by US and Nato forces to make power-sharing with them more palatable to western audiences who had previously been told they were an enemy to be defeated. Hostility to women is shared by other insurgent leaders as well as the Taliban. The strongest rebel force in the provinces south of Kabul is the Hezb-i-Islami, which Western and Afghan leaders have spoken of as a group that might be tempted to join the government.

The movement's leader is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose first political act was reportedly to throw acid in the faces of unveiled female students at Kabul University in the early 1970s.

The HRW report is the first time that repression of women in Taliban- controlled areas in Afghanistan has been systematically studied. All the women interviewed – who are referred to by pseudonyms for safety reasons – said they had lost freedoms. In some cases, women have been killed.

On 13 April this year a female aid worker, Hossai, 22, was shot as she left the office of an American development organisation and died the next day. She had been threatened by the Taliban the previous week. Many of the threats are contained in letters delivered to the door at night – known as "night letters" – or left at the local mosque. Soon after Hossai was killed, Nadia – who worked for an international NGO – got a letter telling her to stop working for infidels and "in the same way that yesterday we have killed Hossai, whose name was on our list, your name and other women's names are on our list". Sometimes the same letter is sent to a number of women. In late 2009, in Kapisa province east of Kabul, women were warned not to ring up radio stations and request songs. They were told if they did they would be beheaded or acid thrown in their faces.

Many women have been forced to give up their jobs and stay at home, even though half the population earns less than $2 a day and there is a chronic lack of employment.

Girls' schools, which sprang up again after 2001, are once more being ordered to close. In Kunduz province in the north, the shadow Taliban governor sent out orders that no girls were to be educated past puberty. One threatening letter delivered to a school read: "You were already informed by us to close the school and not mislead the pure and innocent girls under this non-Muslim government."

In Kunduz these threats were reinforced by arson, rocket and bomb attacks. There have also been outbreaks of unexplained sickness at several schools, which could be the result of mass poisoning. One Taliban spiritual leader explained the targeting of girls' schools: "We are opposed to un-Islamic education for women. We close those schools that teach adultery, nudity and un-Islamic behaviour."

Women active in politics have been targeted and a number of the most prominent assassinated. The failure to catch the killers discourages other women from playing an active role. The Afghan government has also been ambivalent in its attitude to the issue.

The report says that women should be involved and able to protect their interests in any negotiations about reintegration or reconciliation with the Taliban. One female member of parliament doubts this is possible because "the Taliban would rather see a woman die in the streets than go to a restaurant to get food if men were there. These are the kind of people we're talking about".

Letter of the law

"You are working with the government. We Taliban warn you to stop working for the government otherwise we will take your life away. We will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner. This will be a good lesson for those women like you who are working. The money you receive is haram [forbidden under Islam] and coming from the infidels. The choice is now with you."

News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science Teacher Urgently required for October start

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

ICT Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Art & Design Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Assistant Management Accountant -S/West London - £30k - £35k

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: We are working with an exciting orga...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering