Chicago Tribune: It wasn't so long ago that women could walk down the dusty streets and roads of Afghanistan unencumbered by those ubiquitous blue body tents, or burqas, seen in so many television and newspaper images today. Their cheeks were free to soak up the midday sun and their minds were allowed to fill with university learning.
Then came the Taliban. And with this five-year-old regime's extremist interpretation of Islamic law, Afghan women now are restricted from working, attending school, leaving their homes unaccompanied by a close male relative or uncovered by a heavy veil. They are forbidden to laugh in public or to make noise as they walk.
They take the rules seriously. Breaking them invites anything from floggings, to death by stoning, to a single, unceremonious shot to the head.
And yet in the face of this, a group of courageous Afghan women has managed to forge advantage from oppression. Called the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (, a small band of female rebels has mustered the will to document some of the most hideous forms of oppression against women, hiding camera equipment beneath the same veils used to subjugate them.
Prostitution: Tens of thousands of women were said to be widowed by Afghanistan's long-running battle against Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Many have had to turn to begging or prostitution.
The group has captured atrocities such as the haunting, 61-second video of a woman being shot to death in the middle of a soccer stadium to cheering crowds. Forced to kneel, the anonymous woman strains to look at her accusers through the mesh of her burqa, twisting first right and then left, before the end of a rifle splatters her head onto the dusty field.
We never know her crime.
Other video clips on the group's international Web site show public hangings, throat-slittings and mass graves of more than 600 people. The group also has recorded hundreds of instances of abuse against women by the Northern Alliance and non-Taliban warlords.
At tremendous personal risk, RAWA members have established secret schools for girls, both in Afghanistan and in refugee camps in Pakistan. They conduct underground political awareness classes. They help mothers and widows make handicrafts to generate income.
Up to three-quarters of women who live under Taliban rule suffer major depression, according to a report published this year by the group Physicians for Human Rights. As many as 16 percent of those surveyed have already attempted suicide.
So it is all the more remarkable amid such hardship to find resilience. It is yet another example that the human spirit can be easily covered, but not so easily repressed.