As women, we managed to exercise and, to a certain extent, enjoy our human rights in Afghanistan in the past few decades. There were around two million girls in the secondary schools and thousands of female students were pursuing higher education in different fields. Women were working as doctors, teachers, pilots, athletes, actresses, politicians, diplomats, ministers, deputy ministers, directors, provincial governors, defence lawyers, judges, businesswomen, CEOs, and employees of NGOs. The Constitution of Afghanistan was one of the most progressive constitutions in the South Asia region and Afghanistan was showing progress when reporting on human rights treaties implementation before the UN treaty bodies. The government institutions such as the Ministry of Women Affairs, Upper House and Lower House of the Parliament, Independent Human Rights Commission; as well as the Prosecution Office for Elimination of Violence against Women and the Special Courts for Elimination of Violence against Women were successful in addressing the challenges women faced in Afghanistan, to some extent. However, the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, took away these limited yet important achievements from women and girls.
Afghanistan’s collapse and the subsequent seizure of power by the Taliban is extremely painful, miserable, bitter, and destructive for people of my country, particularly, women. The restrictions placed on women’s participation in social, political, cultural, and educational fields, schools, universities, and NGOs means that once again we are imprisoned in our houses and the terrible and bitter history of 1996 is being repeated.
In addition to women’s rights, the Taliban continue to violate other human rights. Arbitrary arrests, torture, public punishment, injustice, and violence continue to be committed by the Taliban with zero accountability. Why did the world let the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be violated? The current situation and silence of the world is painful and terrible for all people, and even more for women protestors.
We have not given up despite all the adversities. We refuse to accept being jailed in our homes, we refuse to be discriminated against, we refused to be repressed! Following the Taliban’s takeover, women began peaceful protests against social and political justice and to demand their legal, social, and political rights. We protested and marched on the streets of Kabul as we called out the Taliban-
“Taliban… Taliban – the violators of human and women rights”
“We don’t want your puppet regime”
“You rose to power by killing dozens of people”
“Your regime is illegitimate”
“We want a legitimate government based on the people’s votes”
We don’t want your puppet regime
However, the Taliban brought dozens of military forces onto the streets and used violence against us. They beat us, used tear gas, fired shots in the air, gave us electric shocks, and arbitrarily detained us. The Taliban shouted at us to be silent, aimed their gun at us, threatened us with death and asked: “How much money has been given to you Western bitches for creating this riot?” We froze with fear, but I asked the protestors not to get frightened. We continued our protest by sitting on the ground.
We continue to motivate the protestors to carry on with their demonstrations, carry on their fight and stand for their commitments towards protecting women’s rights. We sacrificed our lives and money to ensure consistency of protests, we did not belong to any political party in the past and we were agitated and willing to sacrifice ourselves. We protested against the closure of secondary schools for girls and chanted: “Do not politicize education”. It was the power of women to stand against the Taliban and demand their rights.
We protested on the streets, compiled reports, were interviewed by the local and international media, and wrote on social media against Taliban for months. A women protestors’ group was formed, and we continued to raise our voice for justice on the streets and the protests were leading to a people’s movement, but the Taliban got concerned because we were the only power that was fighting against them with nothing in hand. We showed the real face of the Taliban to the world, but the Taliban started to capture, arrest, imprison and torture the women protestors to repress and silence them as their strong critics.
On February 9, 2022, we had to go to a shelter due to fear of being arrested by the Taliban, our only fear was rape not death. We were there to be evacuated to Qatar. Unfortunately, two days later, on February 11, 2022, hundreds of Taliban members attacked and arrested many of the protestors – women, men and children. It was a terrible night, there were so many of them, they even came with tanks and armoured vehicles, they were fully armed. They beat the men, the plea and cries of women and children spread across the aisle and the Taliban took us by force to the vehicles of the Ministry of Interior. We faced brutality during our detention, we passed difficult days. They were mentally torturing us by asking the same questions repeatedly. They asked me why I was protesting against their rule? I told them that my protest is because of girls’ education. I then asked, “which religion prohibits women from education? Do women not have the right to education?”. They told me to be silent and threatened me with death, but I said even though I am breathing, I feel like you have already killed me. They asked me to tell them the name of the organization supporting us to hold protests. I said that I studied the book named “Street, Protest and Power” and wrote about it, I have to protest against the injustice and demand justice. I was speaking but was shaking with fear, I even peed a little. I smelled bad and I had the same experience each time they investigated me. The Taliban repeatedly named me as a spy of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan. Eventually, we met our family members after one week and they released me on bail after 18 days after my brother gave them a guarantee. They took our house documents as guarantee that I will not stand against their authority in the future. I was released on Feb 28, 2022, and that is when I fled to Pakistan. I have been through very difficult days and visited the doctor several times and until now I have not been in good condition.
Unfortunately, the condition of women protestors has not improved so far. Most of us live with an unknown future, financial problems, and in a very bad psychological condition. The programmes announced for the evacuation of the people at risk are very slow and insufficient. However, we have been displaced from our country and had to flee, we need a secure place to continue our struggle. While Afghan girls and women continue to face violence, discrimination, and intimidation, the International Community has failed to hold the Taliban accountable for violation of human rights.
The International Community cannot address the injustice against women and girls in Afghanistan by the Taliban by only issuing some statements and tweets. Therefore, after 18 months, it is the time for international community through the United Nations General Assembly, UN Security Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to put Taliban under serious pressure for the obvious violation of human rights, social justice and imprisonment of half of the population of Afghanistan. If the International Community does not take any action soon, then they are complicit with the Taliban in the elimination of women and girls in Afghanistan.