What’s At Stake For Women’s Lives In Afghanistan?

Read the interview with a women's rights activist from Afghanistan on the consequences of of 20 years of US occupation and the Taliban returning to power.

As the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan, it exposes the real impacts of the United States military occupation in the country. For the last 20 years, they repeated a rhetoric about freedom, democracy, and war on terror, while, in reality, concealing trillions of dollars in spending and countless deaths suffered by the Afghan people. A puppet government was established over the course of this time, which became deeply involved in corruption and the exponential increase in opium exports, while the country faced its own drug dependence issues. While there has been some progress for women’s lives, education, and work in a small area of the country, elsewhere they continued to endure restrictions, violence, and flogging. The Taliban continued to organize under occupation. The surveillance technologies the US experimented with have now become tools for the Taliban to exercise power.

Military interventions are an imperialist strategy used by the US to impose its policies and its corporations’ interests. We look back at the World March of Women’s statement from 2001, as it anticipated the effects of the US occupation established that year. The war “does nothing to solve the problems at the root of violence. On the contrary, it exacerbates the state of poverty and humiliation of the populations directly affected by such interventions. (…) Many governments will use it to justify the escalation of xenophobia; the tightening of their borders, thereby erecting a fortress against immigrants and refugees; the endangerment and even suppression of civil rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly those of women; and the criminalization of any opposition to the current state of neo-liberal and sexist globalization.” Looking back at this statement helps us locate ourselves within the times of politics and allows us to observe the alarming situation currently faced by Afghanistan in light of the regional and international political climate. Bearing in mind the dangers threatening women’s lives is crucial, but that cannot be considered as an isolated matter.

On August 17th, 2021, two days after the Taliban took over Kabul, Capire spoke with a women’s rights activist from Afghanistan, whose identity will remain anynomous for safety reasons amid these sensitive circumstances. She was a refugee in Pakistan for two years and got back to Afghanistan in 2003, when she returned home and continued her education until 2018. She’s living in Germany nowadays. The interview below is a contribution to undestand what is happening in Afghanistan from the perspective of Afghan women. Our goal is to build continuing feminist and internationalist solidarity with the Afghan women and the Afghan people, calling for sovereignty and self-determination for all the peoples.

We would like to report on what is happening in Afghanistan now from the perspective and experience of women there. What are your views on the current Afghan situation?

It’s a nightmare for the people, especially women, back home. Everything vanished within hours, as the hard work of women who have been fighting for their rights and the little bit of visibility that they had started to have in the public life, being part of government institutions, going to universities and schools. They were slowly trusting democracy and that somehow they could have their rights and think about a better future.

This has been terrible. I live in the west now, in Europe, so I can only imagine how the women back home are living. My relatives who were going to universities unfortunately cannot go at the moment. Even though the Taliban have announced that there are no restrictions, nobody is trusting them because of what they did 20 years  ago. The crimes they committed over this period are still fresh in people’s minds.

People say that they don’t know what the future holds. Everybody is scared that they might be a target. Everybody suffers, but the softest target is always the women. People are afraid to go to work, be traced back home and have them doing something to their families. The silence in Kabul is terrifying. You cannot hear people or the kids playing outside.

Kabul is the heart of Afghanistan, and most activists were living there. Some female journalists have come out today. I saw a few clips from Kabul where private TV channels were showing some women anchors who have returned. At the same time people cannot trust the whole situation. After 31st August, things might change because it’s the last day for the Americans to complete the evacuation.

Maybe the Taliban are just showing their soft side at the moment, but once they form the government things will change. There is a clip where a Taliban soldier is asked specifically about women and he says they want to “implement what Sharia1 says about women”, and they have to follow the Sharia dress code. It slipped from his mouth that he thinks women should stay at home. At the same time, their leaders are saying that women can join their offices and that they need them, that women are part of this society. Somehow they’re showing that, but the soldiers on the ground say something else.

Some people say that the US failed in Afghanistan and others say that that was the goal. What does the North American occupation in the country for the last 20 years mean? 

When the US occupied Afghanistan, the expectations that Afghans had at that time was that things were going to change. Nothing fundamental happened there. At the same time that they were back in the Afghan government, they were also somehow involved with the Taliban – not pressurizing them even though they were showing they were fighting the Taliban. Overall, the people in the villages started to be against them and one of the biggest reasons was the bombardment that was happening. Civilians were being killed.

People started to have those sentiments against the Americans, but that does not mean people wanted the Taliban in power. People had been through the Taliban period and they knew what they were bringing. For the past 15 years, my village was somehow under their control. Girls could only go to school until the sixth grade, not above that. People knew that the Taliban was not giving them anything. People wanted to support the government, they wanted the government to be stronger. They believed in a little bit of democracy that the government was providing them.

We are not asking the Americans to stay. We don’t want the occupation. The problem is the way that they left everything, it’s the vacuum that they provided. They literally threw Afghans to the wolves. That is what they do. They get whatever they want and they leave you. At the moment, the panic is terrible for Afghans.

Afghans had a parliament and girls are going to school, that’s the only picture they want to show to the world. That credit should go to Afghans families. They were sending their daughters to schools, to universities, and then they were allowed to have jobs. During this period, because women were targets, there were suicide attacks, kidnap. However, The credit on our safety goes to the people, not to the US or to the puppet government that was not helping people.

At the moment, people are very angry, especially women. They think Americans should have left in a proper way, through a proper channel. People didn’t ask Americans to come. Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, not here. They came, and now they’re leaving us again to a medieval group that will now rule the country.

What does this situation mean to the regional and international conjuncture? 

Everybody’s confused at the moment, even the Taliban themselves. They don’t have any agendas, they don’t know how to form the government at the moment. It’s just a bit confusing for everybody. Today, China has said that they’re going to recognize the Taliban, and Turkey has shown support. That gives legitimacy to the Taliban.

Things have changed a lot over the past 20 years in terms of women knowing about their rights, having access to media and internet. So the Taliban is showing a soft face at the moment to get some recognition from, at least, regional countries. It’s a confusing time at the moment but we will know better about everything after 31st August. Everything happened so suddenly.

What is the possible way out of the situation in Afghanistan and how it can be supported internationally, considering the rise of Afghan refugees?

When the rest of the country fell to Taliban province after province, people took refuge in Kabul. Within three or four days, more than 20,000 fled to the capital. When the Taliban came to Kabul, people started trying to leave Afghanistan. That’s one of the things to show to the world: people do not support the Taliban, they want to leave Afghanistan at any cost. The three people that died hidden themselves somewhere in the plane that was taking off… That terrible thing shows how people want to leave.

The surrounding areas of Kabul airport are full with people standing, thinking they might be able to leave. Even the United Nations has now urged neighboring countries of Afghanistan to allow refugees in.  People don’t want to live under the Taliban because they’re not sure about the future for their kids.

In a very ideal situation, the Taliban have truly changed, they will allow women to work, they won’t interfere in girls education, they will allow girls to go to university. But we have examples of countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where women are repressed and are the soft targets. Intellectuals cannot work freely, human rights defenders cannot work there.

The Taliban will not stay behind, and that’s unfortunate because many people have started to have a life. If you had a little piece of land in your village, you knew that you were using that land for yourself. People in Kabul had started having their own homes. A few years back, Afghans wanted to leave there too, but it was not in such a large number. Back then there were because of the targeted killings of Hazaras2 , because of poverty. Now it will be in millions in the coming months.

What social and feminist movements could do internationally in solidarity at this moment?

The biggest support would be to raise the voice of Afghan people, Afghan women. That’s the biggest solidarity, support and assistance that Afghan people will receive. Do not forget our country. We are in the news now, but in a few weeks, by the time the Taliban declare the government, things will calm down and then nobody will ask what is happening there.

I’m scared of a time when maybe the internet will go down. That time might come because the Taliban might not want their crimes to be documented. So these voices should reach every corner of the world to not leave Afghan women alone. Some people are saying that what is happening is OK if it’s peaceful, as the Taliban is saying. It’s not OK. We can have peace in a graveyard too. We don’t want our country to be a graveyard.

Interview conducted by Bianca Pessoa and Tica Moreno
Edited by Helena Zelic

Source Capire

  • 1Sharia is the Islamic law, based on faith derived from the Koran and hadith. It is used in several countries with a predominantly Muslim population.
  • 2The Hazara people, mostly Shiite Muslims, were once one of the largest ethnic groups in Afghanistan, representing about 67% of the country’s population. It is estimated that more than half of this community was massacred in the late 19th century and, to this day, it is one of the biggest targets of the Taliban.