The 23-year-old executive director of LEARN, a nonprofit focused on education in Afghanistan, said that after Kabul fell to the Taliban, she fled her home over concerns she may be punished for promoting women’s education.
“Where do I go? All the borders are closed anyways. Even if I go somewhere else, they will always have a target on my back,” she says.
Durrani, however, says she is not afraid to speak out against the Taliban — even if it means remaining in hiding for now.
“I would rather not wait for a white man to come and save me. I want to do all those things by myself,” she says.
“I’m willing to fight for my rights, I’m willing to do everything in my power to make sure that those girls who are afraid, are not afraid anymore.
“If they (the Taliban) are not going to listen to me directly, I want to make sure they listen to me on all these channels.”
The Taliban return to power in Afghanistan
Durrani is one of many women in hiding after the Taliban overtook Afghanistan in a week-long lightning offensive that left thousands rushing onto the tarmac of Kabul’s international airport on Monday in a desperate attempt to escape. Several Western countries including Canada and the U.S. have vowed to evacuate and resettle thousands of Afghans who are at high-risk. But what does this takeover mean for the women and girls who may be left behind?
The Taliban has been designated by Canada as a terrorist organization. They held power in Afghanistan for five years until the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
A report from the U.S. State Department published during that time found women living under Taliban rule were forbidden from attending school or work, were subject to rape and forced marriages by the Taliban, required women to wear burqas in public and refused to let women leave their homes without a male escort.
Punishments were severe. The report found the Taliban also carried out public executions, chopped off the hands of thieves and stoned women accused of adultery to death.
In the two decades since the U.S. began its longest war in Afghanistan, conditions had marginally improved. In 2004, a new constitution calling for the equality of women was adopted. One year after that, the country held its first democratic election in more than 30 years. By 2019, nearly all Afghans had access to electricity — a staunch uptick from the fewer than 25 per cent that did in 2005. But many are concerned that progress will be unravelled as the Taliban works to establish its dominance.
Seeking legitimacy, the Taliban have promised “amnesty” to anyone who fought against them and have said they would allow women to return to work. But many remain unconvinced.
“I don’t trust them,” Durrani says. “Their leadership says one thing, their foot soldiers are doing another thing.”
Since Kabul fell to the Taliban on Sunday, reports have surfaced of abductions and Taliban fighters going door-to-door to hunt down lists of interpreters and others who helped with Canada and U.S. intervention.
Samira Hamidi, Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner, said in an emailed statement to Global News that the organization had already received “alarming early reports” about renewed restrictions being imposed on women and girls.
“Before the Taliban takeover, 3.3 million girls were in education, and women had actively participated in the political, economic and social life of the country, becoming lawyers, doctors, judges, teachers, engineers, athletes, activists, politicians, journalists, bureaucrats, business owners, police officers, and members of the military,” Hamidi said.
“All of this is now at serious risk.”
Frustration simmers over Canada’s efforts to help Afghan refugees
Sarah Keeler, community engagement and advocacy coordinator for the not-for-profit Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, told Global News she was “deeply worried about what lies ahead” for women and girls living in Afghanistan.
In an emailed statement to Global News, she said her organization had also received reports of rape and forced marriages of girls as young as 15 by Taliban soldiers, extrajudicial killings, and Taliban-issued edicts for women not to leave their homes for school, work or medical needs.
“We have been working around the clock since last week, not only in trying to support immediate needs in Afghanistan, but also in responding to requests for assistance from desperate Afghans who are afraid and trying to get themselves and their families to safety,” Keeler’s statement read.
“The messages are heart wrenching, and our phones are ringing off the hook.”
Adeena Niazi, founder and executive director of the Afghan Women’s Organization Refugee and Immigrant Services, told Global News she had received reports from people in Afghanistan that the Taliban had begun forcibly marrying girls over the age of 12 and widows aged at least 45 years old.
“Women are the first target of the Taliban’s atrocity,” said Niazi, who grew up under Taliban rule before coming to Canada as a refugee in 1988.
Now that the borders in Afghanistan are closed, Niazi said her organization has been working on lobbying the federal government to have women and interpreters who cannot leave on a commercial flight airlifted out of the country by the Canadian Armed Forces.
The federal government is working to expand its humanitarian efforts to resettle 20,000 Afghans fleeing from the Taliban.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is currently campaigning for re-election, said Tuesday the safety of women and girls living in Afghanistan is a “priority” for the federal government.
“Governments, international organizations and civil society must continue to work together to support women and girls in Afghanistan,” he said. “The Afghan people need the world to stand with them, and that is what Canada will continue to do.”
The U.S. government has also offered to evacuate women and girls living in Afghanistan. The U.S. State and Defense departments said in a joint statement Sunday they would evacuate thousands of American citizens living in Afghanistan, “locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals” over the next 48 hours, adding that 2,000 had already arrived over the course of the last two weeks.
But in the meantime, Durrani says women and girls in Afghanistan wait. Some, like Durrani, lay in hiding, while many wonder what the future holds.
“People are worried about the confusion on what future awaits them, what future holds for them,” she said. “Their political rights, local rights, civilian rights — all these things, they matter right now.”
For the time being, Durrani says she has accepted that the best option for her is to hide from the Taliban in an undisclosed location. But she is begging the rest of the world to speak out.
“(Pressure) the Taliban into accepting educational rights for girls because that is general educational rights. And then at the same time, for working Afghan women,” she said.
“We don’t need victimization. We need your solidarity, you standing up.”
— with files from Global News’ Redmond Shannon and the Associated Press
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