CNN announced this morning that it will air “CNN Special Investigations Unit – Afghanistan, Lifting the Veil” on Saturday, September 15th at 8pm ET…
When CNN aired Beneath the Veil in August 2001, the acclaimed yet startling documentary exposed the harsh realities of Afghan life under Taliban rule. Women were barred from working and excluded from public education. The government sanctioned beatings and executions for those who defied religious law. But a promise of a better future for Afghanistan loomed after U.S. and coalition forces invaded the country following 9/11.
CNN Special Investigations Unit: Afghanistan – Lifting the Veil reveals what the liberation of Afghanistan has meant for the lives of its people. The one-hour documentary will premiere on CNN on Saturday, Sept. 15, and Sunday, Sept. 16, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. All times Eastern.
Reporting for CNN, award-winning journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy criss-crosses the impoverished nation. She meets with ordinary Afghans and witnesses firsthand the struggles women still face and a nation trying to rebuild amid continued war, corruption and chaos. Obaid-Chinoy learns that stalled foreign aid, repressive clerics and a dysfunctional government stymie progress.
Amid the new democracy, little appears to have changed for the better, particularly for women. Infant and maternal mortality are high. Six years after the overthrow of the Taliban, many women are still forced to wear burqas by their husbands and families. Only two out of five Afghan girls attend school, and since most women lack the skills and training to work, begging is often the only option even for a bleak, subsistent life.
In a country of nearly 32 million, more than one million are widows – a consequence of 20 years of wars and conflict. Without husbands, the widows are essentially condemned to a life of abject poverty. Even married women do not appear to fare much better. In a culture in which most marriages are arranged and young girls are often sold into marriage by their early teen years, women are frequently doomed to lives of abuse by their husbands and in-laws.
With such limited options, many women have chosen a devastating route of escape from their brutal oppression: self-immolation. Obaid-Chinoy speaks with suicide survivors in hospitals to try to understand what drives them to such desperate actions as setting themselves on fire.
“What strikes me is the sense of powerlessness in Afghan women’s lives,” Obaid-Chinoy says. “I think these women wanted to make a point. They didn’t want to die quietly, but in a way that let others know they suffered in life – a reflection of deep-seated issues in Afghan society that need to be addressed.”
But Obaid-Chinoy does find some faint signs of hope as well. In the northern town of Taloqan, she finds a girls’ school which seems to embody the promise of the “new Afghanistan.” A fiercely courageous teacher who once risked her life to teach girls in secret now teaches in a modest facility that educates 4,000 girls. But despite the progress, challenges remain. The school has not received the aid it needs to build new classrooms, and the girls say they face strong resistance to study at home.
In 2001, Beneath the Veil introduced viewers to one family devastated by the Taliban. The father had been kidnapped, the mother executed and their young daughters were left alone in a house with Taliban fighters for days. Obaid-Chinoy returns six years later to find out how the father and two daughters have fared since liberation, finding a mixed message of Afghanistan’s pain and progress.
In a nearby village, Obaid-Chinoy speaks with a cleric who also speaks hopefully. He tells her that despite the crushing poverty, he is optimistic for the reconstruction of his war-ravaged village – perhaps a health center might open someday and more food may become available for the people.
Obaid-Chinoy concludes: “I have found joy and hope in places I least expected it, but I have also learned that progress is slow. Afghanistan’s problems were not fixed by the invasion…hanging in the balance, are the future of Afghanistan and the lives of its people, people desperate for peace…and for hope.”
Lifting the Veil is a co-production with Hardcash Productions and Channel 4 of Britain. This documentary was produced and directed by Hugh Thompson, with Jennifer Hyde producing for CNN. Mark Nelson is the vice president and senior executive producer of CNN Productions.