Afghan female entrepreneur confronts the Taliban over women’s rights, as signs of former brutality emerge

‘The Taliban needs to change, otherwise, the society would not accept them, I will not accept them’

Staff Reporter
Friday 20 August 2021 14:41
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On Wednesday, just days after the Taliban take-over of Afghanistan, Asiya, decided to leave her home and talk to the Taliban. She got dressed, put on her red lipstick and left. She went live on Instagram to encourage her friends to get out and show to the Taliban that they are “no more the women who were sitting at home and accepting their restrictive rules”.

Asiya, now 22, lives in the Afghan capital, Kabul, where in recent years she trained as a lawyer and set up three businesses. She is fearful the hard won progress on women’s rights will be reversed under the Taliban, and her career, and life as she knew it will come to an abrupt end. In the live video, she shows the panicked and empty city of Kabul where only a few men are walking around.

“I felt like me and my sister are the only women in this city.” She walks to a police station where the Taliban are now deployed. Many Taliban are sitting in front of the station. She shouts out to the Taliban member as he comes towards her: “Can I talk to you? Can I talk to you? Can we talk?”

She tells the Taliban member that all her friends are worried and scared and they are not getting out of their homes and they want to know whether they should get out of home or not. Then, she asks if the outfit she has put on is ok. “It is better to put on a burqa,” the Taliban official replies.

I will stay in Kabul even if I am 99% sure that they will kill me, I will stay for that 1%

Asiya, 22-year-old female entrepreneur living in Kabul

Asiya said it was a hard thing for her to do and she had to summon up all her courage, but she believes that it was an important starting point.

“I am not sure how many women have gone to their offices after the Taliban took over, I think I am the first one. But someone should have taken the risk and start,” she told The Independent. She says she was scared and when she was walking from home to her office, she saw many Talibs patrolling in the streets of Kabul.

“My heart was trembling and I was thinking they would come and whip me or even I was expecting that they would shoot, anything was possible.”

The Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996-2001 and imposed strict sharia law requiring that women be fully covered by wearing a burqa in public and they were not allowed to get out without a male guardian. Women were not able to attend school, go to work or visit health centres. If the rules were not adhered to, people would be lashed, executed or be stoned to death.

A member of the Iranian Red Crescent distributing food to Afghan refugees gathered at the Iran-Afghanistan border

Back then, Asiya’s mother had been whipped and even shot in the leg because she was wearing revealing shoes.

“The scar from the shot is still there on my mother’s leg. I don’t want myself and friends to experience such things again. We need to make them understand that we don’t accept anything less” Asiya told The Independent.

However, now that the Taliban have returned to power, they have assured the international community and the people that they would respect women’s rights “within the limits of Islam”.

The spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, on his first conference in Kabul said that “there would not be anything against women in our government. If they continue to live according sharia, we will be happy, they will be happy”. But, many women are concerned as their interpretation of Islamic sharia can be very extreme.

Meanwhile, reports coming from the provinces and Kabul say that house-to-house search has started. Many female journalists and activists’ houses have been searched and some have had death threats. In Herat, many women were sent back home when they tried to go to their universities or offices. While in Kabul, a woman presenter, Shabnam Dawran said she was sent back to home but her male colleagues were allowed to go to the office.

A new generation of women in Afghanistan

After the US drove out the Taliban from Afghanistan in 2001, a new generation of women was raised in Afghanistan who had opportunities and a lifestyle that would have been impossible under Taliban rule. Women started going to school and universities, got high governmental position, seats in parliament and ran their own businesses. They represented Afghanistan in the Olympics. The return of the Taliban means they are losing hope for a better future.

I regret all those sleepless nights I studied, I regret working hard. I wish I didn’t torture myself by getting these degrees. what should I do with them now

Fatima, 23 years old

“I lost my job, I lost my university, I lost my dreams. My heart is broken. I am taking pills to sleep but I cannot.”

“I regret all those sleepless nights I studied, I regret working hard. I wish I didn’t torture myself by getting these degrees. what should I do with them now?” Fatima, 25, said in a text message.

“Even if I manage to save my life, I don’t have any future in Afghanistan. I have to sit at home and see all my efforts, dreams and future vanish, life would be useless.” Zahra (name changed to protect her identity), a woman journalist who has been working with an international organization says.

These messages sent to The Independent reveal the level of hopelessness, helplessness and sadness women experience imagining their lives under the government of Taliban.

Videos on social media show thousands of desperate people waiting outside the airport in Kabul trying to flee the dark future they expect to face. Shukria, a young mother with her two children and her husband, has gone to the airport more than four times since the US and other foreign countries announced they would evacuate their nationals along with Afghan employees and their families.

They fear going back to how life was 20 years ago and they hope to escape on a rescue flight without knowing where they will end up. “We just want to get a flight. Anywhere would be better than this cursed land. Taliban has destroyed my life, I don’t want the same hell for my children,” said one.

However, for Asiya and thousands of other young people, they hold fast to their belief that a return to the former Taliban era is unimaginable and have resolved to stay on and stand up to them. Asiya, who has worked hard since 2017 to build her businesses, is determined to get back to her work.

She told The Independent she is not sure about the future as everything is uncertain, but she believes from the outset they need to make demands of the Taliban.

“I cannot let my efforts be lost. The Taliban needs to change, otherwise, the society would not accept them, I will not accept them,” she said.

“I will stay in Kabul even if I am 99% sure that they will kill me, I will stay for that 1%”.

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