The extremist Taliban government of Afghanistan has been in power ever since they staged a military takeover in 1996. Now, after Sept. 11, all eyes have been on Afghanistan, the country with which we have been suddenly plunged into war.

However, the humanitarian crisis that exists under the Taliban has been taking its toll on the Afghan people for years, and women in particular have suffered greatly under the new regime.

With the help of the Orwellian-sounding Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Taliban has removed most of the basic rights of women as human beings.

The surprising thing about the situation for women in Afghanistan is that before the Taliban took control, women had many of the rights that females here in the United States enjoy.

They made up a full 40 percent of doctors and more than half of students at universities. Perhaps even more importantly, they were free to travel about as they wished. But all that changed five years ago.

Now, women are forbidden both to work and to learn. All of the women who were employed before the Taliban are now jobless, and women are prohibited from attending schools or universities.

Some girls are secretly educated in small home schools. However, those who run the schools are in danger of being killed by the Taliban.

Female doctors are generally forbidden to work although women are not allowed to be examined by male doctors. Even in the few situations where female health personnel are allowed to work, the Taliban can raid the hospital with any indication that “mixing” has been occurring between opposite sex employees. This situation has caused many women to die of treatable ailments.

Another serious blow to women’s rights is that women are required to be covered from head to toe in a garment called a burqa, which does not even allow the eyes to be visible, and instead has a thick mesh over the face.

If this garment should be accidentally pulled so that an ankle or other body part becomes visible, a woman can be publicly beaten.

When at home, women must hide behind windows that have been painted black, according to Taliban law.

Women who do venture out in public must be accompanied by a man to whom they are related.

If it is discovered that they are with a man who is not their relative, they can be accused of adultery and stoned to death. These executions are public and can occur in soccer stadiums so that many spectators can attend.

Due to this sudden withdrawal of basic human rights, women in Afghanistan are now suffering from high rates of both physical and mental illness, particularly major depression.

Women are not the only minority group that the Taliban discriminates against. Recently they have stated that non-Muslim minorities must wear badges so they can be identified more easily, a move that must remind us of Nazi-era policies.

Even though we can recognize this and other Taliban policies as discriminatory and even barbaric, some still question whether we are imposing our own values on a system to which they do not apply. Why should we be able to tell another culture how to behave?

The answer is that the Taliban’s policies are not an integral part of the historic culture of Afghanistan or the religion of Islam.

The Taliban claims that their decrees stem from fundamentalist interpretations of the precepts of Islam, even though in other Islamic countries, women are allowed to work and earn their own money. The Organization of Islamic Conference has refused to recognize the Taliban as a valid government.

Afghanistan was a much more progressive country before the Taliban’s takeover, its people are not used to the rules that have been put into place.

A Physicians for Human Rights survey showed that over 90 percent of Afghan people polled were in favor of restoring women’s rights.

Trying to ameliorate the situation for women in Afghanistan is clearly not cultural imperialism for these reasons. Obviously, what is being perpetrated against women in Afghanistan is a crime.

The recent attacks on the Taliban by the United States may help reduce terrorist activity against our country, but we must keep in mind that the people of Afghanistan will continue to suffer and need our help to restore equality and humanity in their country.

Schroth is president of Women’s Caucus and can be reached at

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