‘Our work is not done’: Female Afghan MPs who escaped the Taliban launch women’s parliament in exile

Dozens of MPs will advocate for Afghan women’s rights and refugee resettlement while based in Greece

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Monday 29 November 2021 17:58 GMT
Women queuing to get cash at a money distribution point organized by the World Food Programme in Kabul
Women queuing to get cash at a money distribution point organized by the World Food Programme in Kabul (AP)

Female MPs from Afghanistan who escaped the Taliban have launched a new women’s parliament to champion human rights while in exile in Greece.

Almost half of female Afghan MPs and senators are now living in Greece where they will continue to campaign for women’s rights in Afghanistan, as well as supporting the resettlement of refugees.

Nazifa Bek, a former Afghan lawmaker who launched the project, said: “Our work is not done. We were elected by the Afghan people to represent them.

“Our people, especially women and girls, and those living in poverty, are facing a severe humanitarian crisis and a crackdown on their rights by the Taliban. We will continue to serve them wherever we are.”

Mina’s List, a campaign group supporting the parliament in exile, warned that Afghan female lawmakers “went straight to the top of the Taliban’s kill lists” after the hardline Islamist group swept to power in mid-August as the US and British forces withdrew.

The charity, which has been working to improve women’s political participation in Afghanistan since 2014, said: “They became targets for kidnapping, torture, and assassination by Taliban forces. Those who have not yet managed to escape live in constant fear of Taliban reprisal.”

Before the Taliban seized Kabul, women parliamentarians constituted 27 per cent of the Afghan parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga or “House of the People”.

About 28 women MPs based in Greece are part of the project, which will be open to all female Afghan MPs – including those who are still in Afghanistan or have been relocated to other nations - to take part in the parliament’s discussions remotely via video call.

The female politicians and their families based in Greece have applied for permanent resettlement in countries including the UK, America, Switzerland, Germany, and Canada, but could remain in Greece for up to six months before leaving.

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, women were barred from working, girls were blocked from going to school, and women had to be chaperoned by a male relative if they wanted to leave the house.

Hamida Ahmadzai, another MP who is chair of the Women’s Parliament Committee, said: “The Taliban has destroyed two decades of progress in Afghanistan in a matter of weeks. We must continue to fight for the rights of our people and save those who are in mortal danger under this new regime.

“We call on the international community to remain steadfast in their humanitarian and diplomatic support of the Afghan people while denying the Taliban the right to legitimacy.”

Tanya Henderson, founder and executive director of Mina’s List, added: “Today, these remarkable women have found the strength to continue their work as parliamentarians. Despite losing everything, Afghan women are still leading.”

The charity warned women parliamentarians formerly in power in Afghanistan were “increasingly sidelined” from discussions between America and the Taliban.

Last week, The Independent reported that journalists in Afghanistan are facing death threats and harsh new rules, which are particularly affecting women.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that the Taliban’s clampdown on the press is escalating, with journalists forced to have their articles to authorised before they can be published.

Furthermore, new rules unveiled by the Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice have blocked soap operas and dramas from including women actors.

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