Afghan rapper says women's education and careers at risk under Taliban

Italy hosts side event focused on preserving women's rights in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan

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Sonita Alizadeh, an Afghan woman now living in the US, had a question for the international community on Tuesday: “What do you stand for?”

With the Taliban back in power in her native country, the rapper and women's rights activist warned officials of what could be next for Afghanistan as the hardline new government seeks international recognition while clamping down on women's freedoms.

“Let me be clear: this is not my story. It is the story of girls who were ripped from their homes by Taliban militants and never be able to see their families again, of little boys who will never hear a woman's opinion in their classroom,” Ms Alizadeh told a side event at this year's UN General Assembly.

“Growing up under the Taliban's brainwashing, the story of women who will never ever be able to read, to earn a living, to show their faces in the street again.”

Now 25, Ms Alizadeh says her family tried twice to sell her off into marriage by the time she was 16. She urged leaders at the UN not to recognise the Taliban government in Kabul.

Ms Alizadeh was speaking as part of a ministerial side event at the UN General Assembly dedicated to preserving women's rights in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Representatives from Italy, Colombia, Qatar, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada were joined by non-profit and humanitarian aid actors to discuss how the international community can help hold the Taliban to account and ensure young Afghan women can continue to pursue education and work.

While the Taliban last week said classes would resume for boys who are grade seven and above, the situation for girls in Afghanistan under the hardline group is unclear.

The Taliban made no mention of girls going back to school, effectively locking a large portion of Afghanistan's children out of the classroom.

It remains to be seen how restrictive society and education will be under the Taliban, but it is clear that the hard-fought gains of Afghan women, who had made huge strides during the past two decades, are at risk.

Before the Taliban takeover, over one quarter of members of Parliament and one fifth of civil servants were women.

Thirty-five per cent of public teachers were women and about 3.5 million girls were in schools. In 1999, that number was 9,000.

During the meeting in New York, representatives reaffirmed their commitments to Afghan women and girls.

But Ms Alizadeh questioned whether that would be enough.

“It looks like we all know what must be done,” she said. “But the question is who will take action today.”

Updated: September 21st 2021, 8:30 PM
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