(Shamsia Husainai, AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
Despite the rhetoric of making the world safer for women and girls in the Middle East that helped get some nationalist feminists to support the war effort and prevented many from asking why the U.S. was only concerned about the Taliban’s assault on women’s freedom after 9/11, the reality is that women and girls are no more safe than before the war started. In some areas they may in fact be less safe as sectarian and fundamentalist violence has risen sharply since U.S. entrance into Afghanistan and the U.S. is also responsible for bombings that hit civilian targets, like schools. Worse, fundamentalism is on the rise in Afghanistan not the decline and with fundamentalism, of any kind, often comes the loss of women’s freedoms and rights.
It is in the context of increasing instability and fundamentalism that girls and young women have to try to attend school. As I’ve written about before, that can translate into trying to take exams during an air raid, trying to get to class on roads that are blocked by sectarian groups demanding money, punishing school girls for going to school with beatings or other violence, and or traveling where U.S. troops and Taliban open fire on one another regularly.
On Wednesday, the situation took a new horrific turn as Taliban entered Mirwais Nika Girls High School and sprayed 15 girls in the face with acid before running away. Some of those girls were sprayed while walking to school by men on motorcycles. Six other girls were injured in a bomb blast shortly afterward. Both incidents are considered to be protest against girl’s education in Afghanistan which was halted after the Taliban took power until 2001 when U.S. troops and coalition forces ousted them.
One survivor of the attack had this to say:
“I want to ask the government why they cannot protect us, we girls want to study but the government is not helping us. We want better security.” (BBC News)
Interestingly, the attack took place in Kandahar a once liberal city where girls went to school alongside boys without veils or censure. That changed once the Taliban took over, barring girls from school. And though they have now returned, many are still expected to where the hijab to attend and in some schools are not expected/allowed to participate at the same level as male students. The subject of the changes in the education system in Kandahar were one piece of an important documentary by dir. Nelofer Pazira called Return to Kandahar released in 2003.
World Leaders, including current First Lady Laura Bush, are speaking out about the incident hoping to put pressure on the Afghan government to better protect female students and sectarian factions to call of these violent attacks.
Update: The end result of the attack was that 1500 teachers and students, primarily women and girls, stayed home from school the following day and many several days after effectively preventing girls from getting their education as the acid attackers had hoped. Two girls were permanently blinded in the attack, both losing one of their eyes completely.
According to the NYT, militants claimed they had been paid $1275 for each documented case of a girl burned by them. Their orders came from the Taliban.