As an Afghan woman and campaigner for the international human rights organization Amnesty International, I have never experienced anything worse than seeing my country fall apart. Although I consider myself lucky that I am still physically fine, mentally, I am devastated by the anxiety, uncertainty, fear, and anger of the last few weeks.
During the civil war in the 1990s, I saw my father constantly switch channels between the radio and the television, anxious for updates on the latest developments. I now find myself doing the same, heartbroken by the pain this country I love so much is experiencing and devastated as the gains Afghan women like myself worked so hard for all these decades are now disappearing before my eyes.
The United States has dragged on a war in our name, showed little sincere commitment, and has now left us to fight through hellfire on our own. Women and young girls now question what the future holds, with no plans or provisions made by the international community or the United States to secure their safety or well-being.
Women as Nation Builders
The US government has for two decades failed its promises to support the Afghan people during its military presence in my country. Yet, I continue to encounter a narrative from the American government that blames my people. We are all grouped into the deeds of our leaders and our actions are all cast in the light of politicians like Ashraf Ghani. A country of over 35 million people keeps on being painted with one broad brushstroke as the reality we face and the Afghanistan that is interpreted is disconnected and the whole country suffers the punished for the deeds of a few.
I am told that the progress for women and girls in the political, economic, and social life of the country is due to the United States and that we have become lawyers, doctors, judges, teachers, engineers, athletes, activists, politicians, journalists, bureaucrats, business owners, and police officers because America prioritized our human rights.
This is insulting to every woman and girl who has advocated for her own rights, at great risk to herself. In fact, prior to decades of war, women and girls occupied a space in society much like the United States. They were teachers, they were doctors, they participated in co-ed education. We cannot be blamed for the severe restrictions that were placed upon us during Taliban rule as the country has undergone a war and as we were denied opportunities to access our human rights, like education and healthcare.
Women have been at the forefront of the nation-building work that the United States never advanced. Afghan women are independent and have made great advances, but now, we fear the past is repeating itself as the Taliban tries to deny our rights and drive us out of the public once again.
Feeling Trapped in Afghanistan
I spoke to my 14-year-old niece last week, who told me she fears whether she will be able to continue to go to school. Her fear is at the heart of women and girls throughout my country today. The sense of terror and uncertainty permeates throughout our conversations, even as we cling to hope.
My deepest wish now is for women and young girls to be able to live normal lives and to continue to wield control over their destinies. Yet, what I see before me is a group ready and willing to once again seize control of women and girls’ lives as quickly and as brutally as possible, with no plans to ever recognize Afghan women again as an equal part of half of the population.
One woman I know who is a member of the provincial council in the north of the country is now feeling trapped in Afghanistan, unable to see a future for her and for her daughters. “With the Taliban’s imposing restrictions, I don’t think I will be able to live freely,” she told me.
For 20 years, she’s risked her life working for human rights and women’s rights only to feel betrayed during a chaotic withdrawal from Kabul’s airport, which left her concerned for her daughters’ safety as she and her daughters remain the primary breadwinners for their household while her husband is ill.
She described the embers of dreams many women in Afghanistan now harbor, as “I would like to move to a country where my daughters can complete their education and find ways to still work for Afghanistan. I have already left my home, my hopes, my aspirations, and my dreams back in my province, as well as 30 years of assets. All I have left is my four children and I want to make sure they have the free life they deserve.”
International Community Failed Afghanistan
It’s easy to say now that what has been done is done and that nothing more can be done by either the United States or the international community. Among ourselves, we too feel demoralized at the completion of the US evacuation, unable to trust the international community or believe our risks will be taken seriously or our lives considered important.
A woman lecturer in the Ghazni province told me this weekend, “I don’t know what hurdles await me, but I know I will be harmed if I am left out. Everyone is afraid and concerned about their future. We have lost our jobs. We don’t have salaries. We women are specifically asked to stay at home. I know a lot of women who are breadwinners of their families. What should they do? How will their families will survive? I am concerned about a human catastrophe unlike any before and the American government still does not acknowledge the reality we are facing and I am disappointed.”
The international community has failed my country and my people at every turn as the exit from Afghanistan has been neither dignified nor humane. Those evacuations should have happened humanly. The deadline of August 31 should have been extended. But I don’t have the energy anymore to linger on what should have happened.
I am more concerned now about the people the international community did not consider important enough to be evacuated. I am concerned about all the Afghan women who are at severe risk right now in provinces around the country as threats to their lives continue to be overlooked. Hundreds of women have been marching the streets of Kabul to advocate for their rights and to have visibility. Instead of respect for their rights, they have been met with reprisals by the Taliban, crushed by a force we fear will continue to brutally cement power.
Pressure the US Government
For nearly two decades, US presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, have claimed they were champions of the rights of Afghan women, and as this White House continues claims that bear no truths for the women and girls of Afghanistan, what I want readers in the United States to know most of all is that I personally know dozens of women activists, journalists, human rights defenders who want to leave and yet who continue to be stuck.
The painful truth is that the US evacuation did not help those women at risk; it did not save lives; it did not help those who the US government knows is still at risk, and worse, we have been left with no support at all, despite the awards and the accolades that we were once bestowed.
Humanity has been missing from policies towards our people for decades. While we may not see accountability for what we have endured, the lives and futures of thousands of at-risk women and girls can still be salvaged. Readers can still press their government on welcoming us to their countries as we seek the lives and the rights abroad that we have been pursuing at home: the right to an education, the right to health, the right to free expression.
While we have the same hopes and the same claims to our human rights as those living in the United States, unless Washington recognizes us, sees our humanity, and provides us with the resources and support we rightly deserve from a government that has placed our very lives at great risk, we fear that we will be killed, along with our families.
Readers have the opportunity to pressure the US government to explain why we were betrayed and why we have been left behind and to accelerate what it can truly deliver to us now: visa programs, refugee resettlement, residency benefits. Governments need to see now, more than ever, that abandoning us will simply be unacceptable.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.