The Washington Post: Opinion: Listen to the voices of Afghan women

August 15, 2021

With the Taliban seizing control of Afghanistan after two decades, millions of Afghan girls and women are fearful, wondering what lies ahead. They had banked on a future with their fates tied to those of the United States and its NATO allies, but now those ties have been suddenly severed. The international community is looking away just as these women are looking for a lifeline.

I have spent years writing about Afghan women leading the push to make women’s voices heard. Girls learning coding, women starting businesses, girls dreaming of becoming engineers, lawyers and teachers. Their stories, so full of strength and hope, now are in danger of being crushed by the Taliban, as so many were when the Taliban last ruled. The messages I have received in recent days have been heart-wrenching. Here is a sampling — the women’s identities have been withheld because of the danger they now feel as stories of Taliban violence against girls and women emerge.

From a community activist:

“I just got a call to leave Kabul immediately with my family. The government called me and told me I am being targeted. What should I do with my family? My country is tearing apart. What should I do with my family.”

From a 20-something woman in Kabul:

“As you know, the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating day by day, and we are very upset and anxious. Me and my sister … are worried about our lives. We are in a very dangerous situation. Once you suggested that if I wanted to go to the United States for study you can help … in this bad situation if you can help us it would be your kindness and greatness. I’m waiting for your reply.”

From a high school student who fled across the border, alone, to escape Taliban threats, but is frightened for her parents:

“It has been such dangerous days you can’t imagine. … We are much scared because we are alone and we dont have anyone and we are much nervous about our families, we were crying all day and didn’t know all day what to do with our families. We just ask people to help us.”

One young woman I know went to visit makeshift camps in Kabul parks filled with thousands of families who fled the Taliban offensive in northern Afghanistan. Families sit together, dazed, waiting for what is to come. She shared with me what a young woman told her:

“Girls who had duty out of house is in greater risk, because [the Taliban] recognized them and then they punish, they ask you are muslim why are you working out of you home. … Me and my sister are afraid for … our self and family, we had worked many years.”

My friend wrote, “There is so many people that have the same tragedy story, not one and two girls,” adding, “I will do anything for my people, I want the world to hear us, to feel our pain.”

Still another young woman sent me video of a father with his head in his hands, telling a reporter he had no idea where his 14-year-old daughter is after armed men took her. The young woman who sent the video fears this for herself.

There is plenty of blame to go around, across Afghan governments, U.S. political parties and Washington administrations; plenty of time for postmortems about missteps and failed policies. But time is running out to let Afghan girls and women know that the quest for human dignity does not stop at Afghanistan’s border. I have never felt so powerless to help these women I have had the privilege of knowing. But it is impossible to give up trying to get them out of harm’s way and back on the path to pursue their dreams.

The United States has a moment to help those women, in particular, who worked alongside the United States and NATO to build stability and security. Create the space needed to get them to safety even while the next chapter of Afghanistan is being written without America in it.