Afghan Women Tell of Horror Under Taliban

Faces veiled and names kept secret, three Afghan women told French lawmakers on Friday of their suffering since the radical Muslim Taliban took power five years ago. Covered head to foot by blue Afghan "burqa" gowns, with only a small square of netting to see through, they spoke of their nightmarish existence of beatings and isolation.

"Since the Taliban arrived, we have lost hundreds of years' worth of rights," said Homa, who was forced to abandon her profession as a gynecologist in 1996 when the fundamentalist Taliban militia imposed their vision of a pure Islamic state. "Homa" and her friends "Latifa" and "Diba" said they had adopted pseudonyms and wore veils to disguise their identities and protect their families after slipping out of Afghanistan to raise international awareness of the plight of women under the Taliban.

"We took a risk coming here, but we don't care because what we go through every day is like death, so real death doesn't scare us. How else could we continue our struggle for the women of Afghanistan?" Latifa, a former student of journalism, told a news conference at the National Assembly. "If I showed my face in front of a camera I could be sure that when I return to Kabul my family would no longer exist," she added.

Latifa recounted a scene she witnessed on the streets of Kabul during a Muslim festival, when Taliban militia men suddenly began beating a woman with a lead-studded whip, causing her feet to bleed. "Even though she was standing in a pool of blood, she asked why they were doing it. And they said it was because she was wearing white shoes, the color of the Taliban flag, and they would beat her until the shoes turned red. And she said 'Yes, I am a criminal'," Latifa recounted. "I have not gone out on the street since that day," she added.

Latifa said international efforts to send humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, ravaged by drought and war, were useless given the situation of women, who have been banned from working, studying and receiving medical care. "We're not here to ask for pencils so that we can write. I don't think you understand the horror of our situation. It has to change, this can't continue," she pleaded.

The three women said they planned to return home soon to take a message of hope to other women, although they refused to reveal when. They said they had been enjoying walking around Paris without their veils, but worried that it was tempting fate. "I have to keep it on so that I don't forget the suffering of my people. It's easy to get used to not wearing this net, but I'll have to go back there to face the same things again until you find a solution to our plight," Latifa said.

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