Berkeleyan Masthead

This Week's Stories


Graduation Rates Hit All-Time High


Biotechnology Luminaries Reflect on the Industry at 25


Memorial for the Late Glenn Seaborg Set for March 27 in Zellerbach Auditorium


Schekman to Deliver March 31 Faculty Research Lecture


April 17: Hold the Date for Cal Day!


Business Class Pits 66 Berkeley Students Against Stanford Rivals in E-mail Negotiations


Y2K Worries? Help Is on the Way at


Gender Apartheid Under Afghanistan's Taliban


Staff Profile: Joan Parker Looks Back on 40 Years of Women's Sports at Berkeley


More About: Taking an Artistic Journey Through Iranian History


Berdahl Airs Work/Life Issues With Bay Area Employers


EEOC Official Discusses the Post-209 Era


Photo: In-Line Skating 101


Photo: It Happens Every Spring


Celebrating Black History


NPR Biotechnology Broadcast Features Three Berkeley Faculty

Regular Features


Campus Authors


Campus Calendar


Campus Memos


Letter to the Editor


News Briefs




Staff Enrichment


Gender Apartheid Under Afghanistan's Taliban
Refugee and Women's Rights Advocate Simi Wali Sheds Light on Abuses

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Posted March 17, 1999

Photo: Page from the Feminist Majority Foundation website

This page from the Feminist Majority Foundation website shows the burqa, which Afghan women under Taliban rule are forced to wear.

Imagine living in a world where a woman is forbidden to attend school or work, can be shot for leaving the house without a male relative and is forced to wear a burqa, a voluminous garment that shrouds the body from head to toe, with only a small mesh opening through which to breath and see.

This is the plight of more than 11 million Afghani women living under the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban, an Islamic militia that seized control of much of the country in 1996 after a prolonged war against the Soviet Union.

Sima Wali, an Afghani refugee and women's rights advocate, spoke on campus March 9 about the oppression of women in her native country and possible solutions to the problem. She encouraged audience members to raise their voices and put pressure on both national and international government agencies to deal with the situation.

Wali said she held the U.S. "accountable" for helping to create this situation, by funding the extremists in their war against the Soviet Union. "The American government needs to understand that its efforts to remove the 'evil empire' in Afghanistan resulted in the creation of the Taliban."

She challenged the United States to take responsibility for its actions by assuming a leadership role in re-establishing human rights for women in Afghanistan. Sending relief money is not enough, she said.

"Instead of a band-aid solution, we need to address the larger geopolitical problem that allows the continuation of Taliban control," said Wali.

The United States, she said, could help eradicate the gender apartheid gripping Afghanistan by providing asylum for Afghani refugees, stemming the flow of arms enabling the Taliban to continue its lucrative drug trafficking, including women in peace negotiations and supporting relief efforts organized by indigenous refugees themselves.

But, according to Wali, time is running out for Afghan women, many of whom are committing suicide or dying because they cannot be treated by male doctors. Women are no longer permitted to practice medicine.

According to various news reports, Afghani women suspected of breaking the Taliban's strict code of conduct have been publicly flogged, beaten or stoned to death; women have been killed by cars because their burqas restrict their vision; females are not permitted to wear white socks and their shoes cannot make noise when they walk; and homes with women in them must have their windows painted with opaque paint. At a state orphanage in Kabul, the girls reportedly have not been allowed outside since September of 1996.

Prior to the Taliban's rule, Afghan women made up more than 50 percent of the students at Kabul University, 70 percent of the nation's school teachers, 50 percent of civilian government workers and 40 percent of the doctors, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation. Wali said that while the Taliban claims to be following fundamentalist Islamic ideology, the oppression they perpetuate against women has no Islamic basis. Under Islam, she said, women are allowed to work, earn and control their own money and participate in public life.

"The Taliban has nothing to do with Afghan tribal culture," said Wali. "Our women have been robbed of gains we have made."

Wali is the winner of Amnesty International's Ginetta Sagan Fund Award and is president of Refugee Women in Development, an organization that works to heighten awareness of human rights abuses against uprooted women.


March 17 - 30, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 27)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
Comments? E-mail