'Times have changed': Pictures of Afghan women before Taliban rule go viral

Afghan women and girls who have won freedoms they could not have dreamt of under the last Taliban rule that ended 20 years ago are desperate not to lose them now the Islamist militant movement is back in power.

These images of Afghan women before Taliban rule is going viral:

Liberal and westernised lifestyle

Fractured by internal conflict and foreign intervention for centuries, Afghanistan made several tentative steps toward modernisation in the mid-20th century.

In the 1950s and 1960s, some of the biggest strides were made toward a more liberal and westernised lifestyle, while trying to maintain a respect for more conservative factions. 

(Photograph:Twitter)

Education and freedom to vote

The Afghan government established girls schools, funded a new university, and later instituted a new constitution that introduced a democratic framework and granted Afghan women the right to vote.

In urban areas women attended college, took jobs outside of the home, ran businesses, and some even ventured into politics. Kabul became cosmopolitan.

(Photograph:Instagram)

Prosperous society

Though officially a neutral nation, Afghanistan was courted and influenced by the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War, accepting Soviet machinery and weapons, and US financial aid.

This time was a brief, relatively peaceful era, when modern buildings were constructed in Kabul alongside older traditional mud structures, when burqas became optional for a time, and the country appeared to be on a path toward a more open, prosperous society.

(Photograph:Twitter)

Abrupt halt

Picture taken in 1962 at the Faculty of Medicine in Kabul of two Afghan medicine students listening to their professor (at right) as they examine a plaster cast showing a part of a human body.

It was in the late 1970s, as the women's movement gained ground in the West, that the era of progress for Afghan women came to an abrupt halt.

(Photograph:AFP)

Regime’s subjugation of women

When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, their strict interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law, sometimes brutally enforced, dictated that women could not work and girls were not allowed to attend school.

Women had to cover their face and be accompanied by a male relative if they wanted to venture out of their homes. Those who broke the rules sometimes suffered humiliation and public beatings by the Taliban's religious police.

(Photograph:Reuters)

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