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The Future Is Uncertain For Women In Afghanistan Under Taliban Rule

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Taliban are back in charge in Afghanistan. The last time that militant group ran the country, 20 years ago, women, of course, did not fare well. They were forced under male guardianship, kept out of universities, government and jobs. But the Taliban now says women will have a place in some of those spaces under Islamic law, or Sharia. But given the varied interpretations of those laws, it's very hard to say what that might mean.

We turn now to Manizha Wafeq. She is president of the Afghanistan Women's Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Thank you so much for being with us.

MANIZHA WAFEQ: Thank you for covering our issue today.

SIMON: Well, it's important. And I gather you were in Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago. You're in the U.S. now. But you're planning to return soon. May I ask, are you worried?

WAFEQ: Well, yes. All Afghans are worried because for the last 20 years, all of us worked so hard. All of us put in so much hope, dreams into Afghanistan that we never thought that we would see this day.

SIMON: Well, how do you take some of the Taliban statements we've heard about this week, that, of course, women have a place in our society under Islamic law?

WAFEQ: In terms of Sharia law, we all know how they interpret that. And so that's another thing that can worry everyone because they want fully segregated spaces for women. And I don't know how that would be practical and possible in every sector. And yes, there are a number of other items on that list of Sharia-based restrictions for women, such as, you know, how to cover themselves. OK. Sometimes when I talk to women this last week, sometimes we have said that maybe with the covering we would compromise. But all other things cannot be compromised.

SIMON: Among the many gains that Afghan women have been able to make over the past 20 years - for example, I'm told that women make up over a fifth of civil servants in Afghanistan - does that make its own case for the Taliban not to tamper with success?

WAFEQ: I'm hoping that, yes, they would see that it's a different Afghanistan that they have taken hold of this time. It's not 1994 and 1995. When they took over at that time, it was much easier for them to do whatever they wanted and however they wanted to rule. But this time the country's totally changed.

So just taking our example, businesswomen - we have 57,000 women-owned businesses - women-owned and run businesses in the country. These women, among them, close to 2,500 of them are licensed formal businesses. And the rest are informal businesses. But altogether, they have created more than 130,000 jobs. There is a strong group of businesswomen who would like to negotiate their position.

SIMON: Part of your work includes, I gather, policy recommendations. What would you tell international companies or aid agencies, NGOs about doing business with or providing aid to Afghanistan now?

WAFEQ: I would urge or still request the international community - and among the international community, especially United States - to continue their aid to Afghanistan. And so if they continue their support, they will have a better position to take Taliban accountable for their words and also put some conditions on their aid - inclusive governance, respecting human's rights, women's access to education, work, business, sports and all other aspects of - or spheres of life.

SIMON: Manizha Wafeq, president of the Afghanistan Women's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, thanks so much for being with us.

WAFEQ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEVON REA FT. EPIFANIA'S "YEARNING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.