One Year On:
Reflections from Afghan Women
“it gives me hope when I see that women are not giving up”
One year after the Taliban’s takeover of the country, Afghan women around the world have continued their efforts to build a better Afghanistan despite rampant human rights violations, systemic repression, and a general lack of effective engagement from the international community.
The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security asked Afghan women leaders to answer three questions about the state of affairs in Afghanistan to capture a snapshot of the current moment through their eyes.
The picture they painted was one of heartache, grief, resilience, inspiration, and for some… hope.
Their responses — excerpted and sparingly edited for clarity — are below. Participating leaders include:
- Lailuma Nasiri is the president of the Afghanistan Justice Organization
- Wazhma Frogh is a human rights and international development lawyer and founded the Women & Peace Studies Organization
- Kochay Hassan runs an organization whose name has been redacted
- Lima Anwari is the Legal Program Coordinator at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
- Shahla Farid is an exchange scholar and researcher at the Rutgers University, Center for Women’s Global Leadership
- Roshan Mashal is a visiting scholar and fellow at the University of Texas at Austin and the former deputy director of the Afghan Women’s Network
- Fatema Ahmadi is a fellow at American University
- Humaira Ameer Rasuli is an activist and human rights lawyer, presently a visiting scholar at William & Mary Law School
- Najeeba Ayubi is director of the Killid Organization
How are you responding to the situation of women and children inside Afghanistan?
Roshan Mashal: Women and girls in Afghanistan are being held hostage in their own country. They are being denied their fundamental rights.
Lima Anwari: The situation of women and children is the worst ever in the past 40 years. Women are deprived of their rights to education and public and political participation. All the achievements and gains we had were lost. All the employed women are now at home. They are not allowed to go outside of their houses without a male companion. Even taxi drivers are not allowed to take a woman customer without a man. Women beggars are increasing as there is no job for them to do. Women’s access to health services during the past 20 years was one of the major requests from women’s rights advocates, and now it is at its worst, as their access is almost none.
Mashal: Despite new tragedies, we can’t forget about the struggles of Afghan women and girls. It is highly needed to be the voice of women and the people of Afghanistan and support them financially, morally, and practical. We need more unity to come together and advocate for their rights and freedoms. Afghanistan’s problem needs national resistance.
“I feel much guilt for the situation in Afghanistan that I have left behind while my life is safe and comfortable here.”
Humaira Ameer Rasuli: I am very emotionally conflicted on a daily basis. I am so grateful and relieved that my family and I are safe in America. I feel much guilt for the situation in Afghanistan that I have left behind while my life is safe and comfortable here. I am communicating with my friends, family, colleagues, and clients on a daily basis. Their circumstances in Afghanistan are dire.
Najeeba Ayubi: I am in contact with too many women in Afghanistan. I am talking with them and discussing different ways to survive — mostly I am giving them hope that the situation will end one day and that they deserve to see the Taliban-free Afghanistan. Also, I am trying to motivate my family and friends to send some money to some of the families that have children inside Afghanistan.
Wazhma Frogh: As the founder of a local organization active inside Afghanistan, with 15 staff members and 200 members, I am mostly engaged in the safety related arrangements and fundraising for programming, joining weekly conversations with women who come together in our office in Kabul, listening to their stories, and finding small opportunities. I believe the women’s organizations are the only small spaces left for women and girls to come together. We have self-help groups for ten women, yet 20 show up and we have to excuse them because of a lack of funding and resources.
Rasuli: I am committed to stand for women’s rights and empower my fellow sisters by setting up networks with other activists to provide moral and technical support to activists and leaders who were left behind. They are hiding in their houses living in fear with no financial resources and no political support. I am teaching Afghan law students online the interpretation of major laws, legal writings, and lawyering skills; preparing them for the day they can replace the exile leaders and represent the survivors of violence. I am advising others there on how to represent women and survivors of injustice and violence. Here in the U.S., I am working tirelessly to create high profile awareness about these injustices and ask for world help.
Fatema Ahmadi: In my view, religious freedom is a key to the region’s problems. My endeavor is to bring people from the Middle East and South Asia to advocate for religious freedom in our countries. Women and children have been suffocated under religion’s interests from some authoritarian regimes and extremist groups. This is huge and long-term, but meanwhile, my peacebuilders network and I are processing the registration of our team in Afghanistan to utilize lessons from peacebuilding and non-violent actions while our society suffers from significant human rights violations. We have a great number of women working with us.
Nasiri: My organization was working with the justice sector in Afghanistan providing capacity building and organizational development with a focus on women. I, through my organization, am supporting and working with fresh law and sharia faculties students (all girls) in 34 provinces of the country, legal aid providers and lawyers, and hundreds of prosecutors and judges, none of whom have work now. They call me, message me, and email me about their situation from both a security and economic point of view. I cannot help them in any other way but to give them moral support. Because of security reasons and multiple layers of restrictions for women and girls in Afghanistan, I keep a low profile but I do play an active role through advocating for the situation in Afghanistan and especially those of women and girls through participating in meetings and discussions with the international community including the U.S., EU and UN.
Kochay Hassan: I work as the executive director of an organization that has served Afghan women and children for more than three decades. It has been actively working in the education, livelihood, women’s empowerment, capacity building of CSOs, peacebuilding, WASH, and humanitarian sectors. After August 15, though our organization and many other Afghan women-led CSOs have experienced huge turnover, financial instability, and lack of project opportunities, we have survived. We are implementing an education project in the Paktika Barmal and Urgun districts. We established 17 CBE classes for the children of mentioned communities. However, the demand for establishing more classes has been requested by the communities since more than 50 students are attending each class. Moreover, we will be establishing child-friendly spaces (CFSs) soon in Paktika provinces for the earthquake-affected communities. The purpose of the CFSs is to establish child- friendly/temporary learning spaces for the most affected children to ensure they are in a safe place, can access inclusive, gender-sensitive WASH facilities and protection services, and are provided with structure, stability, and hope. We have 60+ female workers and are continuously aiming to recruit and give Afghan women and girls the opportunity to work, build their capacity, and prepare them to serve the women and children in need.
What is one thing the U.S. government and international leaders could do today to improve the situation in Afghanistan?
Farid: The Taliban have proved they have not changed, they do not know how to govern, they do not have the ability to manage the economic resources of Afghanistan, they are not able to create an inclusive government, and they cannot lead and manage Afghanistan differently from the first round of governance with their petrified beliefs. Therefore, the only thing the U.S., international communities, and world leaders can do is non-recognition of the Taliban government, non-availability (not making resources available) of Afghan people’s funds, capital and wealth to the Taliban, and further restrictions on international travels of Taliban leaders.
Nasiri: The Taliban continue to use the women’s and girls’ rights as leverage to bargain with the international community, such as the girl’s education and women’s work for their political agendas. They used to ask for political recognition in return for allowing women and girls education and work and they still do that. The Taliban government uses violence against women and girls and continues to set new restrictions.
Ahmadi: One thing that the leaders can do is keep pressing the Taliban to bring democratic values and women’s and minorities rights to their rule. If they want to stop another civil war, they should negotiate with the opposition and engage in dialogue with the people, rather than imposing their brutal roles. They cannot bring a new fabricated form of Islam to Afghanistan while the rest of the Muslim countries follow none of these Talibanist Islamic principles.
Mashal: [International leaders] must listen to Afghan women and continue advocating for them and responding to the recommendations and expertise of Afghans.
Rasuli: We would like to see the U.S. help establish a platform to enable exiled women leaders to directly and safely address the Taliban on our concerns and proposals for the rule of law, access to justice, inclusive governance, fundamental human rights and freedoms, and full and equal participation of people in social, economic, and political life.
“Women’s rights are a vital component of Afghanistan’s national security, and as such, it is in the international community’s best interest to empower Afghan women’s rights activists.”
Mashal: Continue putting pressure on the Taliban to stop and reverse their rollback of human and women’s rights. Ongoing unrest in Afghanistan threatens peace and stability not only in the region but all around the world. Women’s rights are a vital component of Afghanistan’s national security, and as such, it is in the international community’s best interest to empower Afghan women’s rights activists. They must also be steadfast in their commitment to isolate the Taliban and refuse to engage with them with conditions.
Farid: Humanitarian services in Afghanistan should be managed by women and this should be a condition for humanitarian aid for Afghanistan under the Taliban’s rules. Social Schools should be established in different localities titled “Homeschooling” to avoid wasting the time of young girls. And, to respond to this situation, the international community still can work for poverty alleviation in relation to the situation of children and women through legal and humanitarian services.
Nasiri: If the current situation continues, the consequences will be seen on regional and international levels — security threats as the number one consequence, mass immigrations, and grave economic burden will not let any country in the region or world remain at peace. People of Afghanistan including me and millions of women (including hundreds or thousands of professional women) who are in Afghanistan are actually being held hostage. Imposed limitations, security concerns, fear of a dark future, and economic crisis are the reasons that would force people to leave the country at some point.
Anwari: It is all about the interference of Pakistan. Pakistan never wants a peaceful Afghanistan. The U.S. government and international leaders should redesign a policy that took a grantee from Pakistan to not interfere in Afghanistan and from the other side Taliban should be removed from Afghanistan.
Nasiri: A role the international community can play in Afghanistan is pressuring Pakistan to make the Taliban accept the Afghan people and the international community’s demands. I ask the countries with political agendas and policies in and for Afghanistan (the U.S., Russia, Pakistan, China, India, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, central Asian countries, and many more) to reach a consensus among themselves regarding Afghanistan. Making the Taliban a success creates opportunities for the same successes in their countries too. Keeping Afghanistan a trouble zone will not benefit the region or the world.
Ayubi: Right now, everyone is talking about girls’ education, but for me it is very important that U.S. policy makers talk about the legitimacy of the government and the lack of law in the country. International friends also can put pressure on the Taliban to accept the election — it will be very important that people select the responsible governmental officials, otherwise in other countries of the world other terrorist groups will try to get in power and challenge the peace and security of the secure part of the world.
“For self-reliance and economic empowerment, we need livelihood, income-generating projects, and opportunities to help people become financially independent.”
Hassan: Throughout the last 20 years, trillions of dollars have been spent on Afghanistan’s education, infrastructure, security, and aid delivery to people in crisis, which not only did not satisfy the need but also left Afghan people aid-dependent and unmotivated. For self-reliance and economic empowerment, we need livelihood, income-generating projects, and opportunities to help people become financially independent. I believe we can help the people in need, especially women, by providing them livelihood opportunities, such as small grants/loans/ resources, capacity building in marketing skills, and organizing local and national level exhibitions to sell their products and feed the family every day.
Frogh: While they are responsible for the current crisis in Afghanistan, I am not asking for any interventions anymore. I would ask for all the development and humanitarian funding to go inside Afghanistan, create more job opportunities for women and men, and let them decide whether they want a different ruling or changes — it has to come from within. But the economic crisis is the number one thing the U.S. and international actors can help resolve. Make the banks open and functioning so that funding can flow in and support local women groups, as they are the only spaces for women and girls.
What gives you hope for the future of Afghanistan?
Nasiri: I have no optimism. Afghans have already passed 11 months under Taliban rule and with every passing day, new issues arise, new rules are imposed, and new restrictions are put in place. If there wasn’t the pressure of political recognition of the Taliban regime, problems would have been even bigger. At this moment I have no reason to be hopeful for the future.
Anwari: To be honest, with the current Taliban rules, I’m not hopeful for the future of Afghanistan. I don’t see any future for the people, especially for the women. It has been more than 300 days and, still, the schools for girls are closed. 90 percent of people are starving from poverty. The aid and humanitarian support are controlled by the Taliban which is why it is not reaching all the needy people. Target killings, kidnapping, torture, and all other crimes have increased. No one is safe. And the international community forgot the Afghan people and left them behind. With all this negativity, how do I think of a positive future?
Hassan: Afghanistan is home. It is where I finished high school and university. After graduation, I remember taking the oath to serve the country and its people. Since August 15 and the collapse of the previous regime, women have faced limitations in terms of the right to education, work in private and governmental sectors, movement, political opinion, and participation. It has been hard for women to adapt to the changes imposed by the de facto authorities. This caused thousands of qualified women in different sectors to leave the country and start elsewhere. The reason for immigration is the lack of opportunity and hope for women in Afghanistan. However, my perspective has completely changed toward Afghanistan.
Nasiri: I was hopeful for Afghanistan before August 2021 because democracy in Afghanistan had the potential to move forward despite shortcomings. Human rights and women’s rights violations were taking place but there were institutions and a legal framework that had the potential to address those violations and take actions against. Progress was slow but the country was able to move on and the economy was in better shape and could improve to be even better. Civic spaces were shrinking in one way or another but there was also a vibrant civil society and institutions that were criticizing the government and safeguarding the democratic values. We have nothing now, and therefore, nothing gives me hope for the future of Afghanistan.
Hassan: I remember a conversation in a WhatsApp group of Afghan students where almost everyone voiced the same narrative: Afghanistan is no longer a living place, and the darkness surrounds it. As a result, many wanted to leave the country and express their hopelessness and no longer see any future for themselves in Afghanistan. It was quite the opposite for me; I still saw a spark of hope when I was able to return to my office with a group of females back in December. It was a positive sign that led many women and girls working in our organization to have faith back in this country and see a future for themselves and their families. We wake up, dress up, and go to work every day with full passion and commitment to serve the people of Afghanistan in crisis and not give up on the dream we have invested so many years in. It is not an easy road. Some moments investing our energy, hopes, and dreams seem pointless, but our passion and commitment to Afghanistan overcome it.
“The women and girls are not the same as in 1996; they are now more aware, louder, and firmly standing up for their rights.”
Mashal: While the existence of the Taliban in power and the violations against women and human rights by them have a dangerous impact on the future of Afghanistan, in the meantime, women and girls’ resistance from inside and outside Afghanistan gives me hope for the future. Because, today, the women and girls are not the same as in 1996; they are now more aware, louder, and firmly standing up for their rights. As well, women and activists are supporting other women worldwide today. They are following up the same agenda for promoting women’s human rights. So, it is another window of hope for change.
Frogh: I work with a group of 200 women in all provinces of Afghanistan, though we have helped some flee the province and stay in Kabul, and through the fundraising for emergency support I have done in the past 10-11 months, I have been engaged with these women on daily basis, sometimes 500 messages a day — hearing every pain, every struggle, every loss, and shedding a tear alongside them. While it was hard to understand anything during the first few months, things started becoming a “reality” in the later months. The same women started finding solutions — small solutions — like 200 women putting up 50 Afs each to provide for a family one day, buying a cow for another the next, and helping each other boost morals. What I have seen in the past 11 months evolving in the strength of these women, that gives me hope. Yes, they are mostly stuck behind the four walls, as they lost their jobs, their income, their daughters can’t go to school, and some have lost a family member being detailed for their work and the name they have earned in their province, but the fact that I still receive messages with their proposals on how to keep their community engagement alive, makes me hopeful. I’m taking one day at a time.
Ahmadi: After August 2021, many people including me had no idea what the Taliban would do to our people. We have witnessed a broad range of atrocities and violence against women’s rights, human rights, freedom of religion, and minority rights. They brought a culture of abhorrence to Afghanistan. However, I found great resilience in our nation. Afghan activists and international friends relentlessly have been raising their voices against any dehumanized actions from the Taliban which brings hope to me that we are not forgotten and Afghans, like all free humans around the world, will not accept the Taliban as a reality.
Nasiri: There is a huge gap between the Taliban and the public which has resulted in a lack of legitimacy at national level as well. Taliban are carrying the fake pride of winning the war against the U.S. and doing jihad for the sake of Allah and want the entire nation to be proud of them too. I can’t be proud of a few men’s so-called ‘holy’ fight for freedom, which has resulted in me losing my freedom.
Rasuli: I have serious concerns about the situation in Afghanistan in general and in particular with regard to women and girls but it gives me hope when I see that women are not giving up. They are continually leading campaigns, protests and advocacy events to call for women’s inclusion in the society and continuation of women’s work and education. Their courage and commitment to fight against abusive power and violence is both amazing and humbling. Together, even deep in the current crisis, we regrouped. We are providing pro bono support to our sisters inside Afghanistan — women who have survived violence and humiliation. We are making a difference, treating them respectfully and with dignity as human beings.
Farid: The existence of the young and educated generation of Afghanistan, especially the third generation of women in my country, who after the rule of the Taliban have been keeping the voices of Afghanistan raised for positive change, gives me hope for the future of Afghanistan. Because these women raised their voice for justice, bread/ food, clothes, work, freedom, and gender equality. So, in my opinion, these women will change the present and future of Afghanistan.
Ayubi: Afghanistan is a country with more than 65 percent of young population, and a big percentage of this population studied inside or outside of the country and started working in Afghanistan in different areas. I know this political change is something that will be changed soon and that we will go back on the right track soon. The young generation is my hope, because they can play a very important role in Afghanistan’s future. Also, the current challenges in Afghanistan will create an awakening among our people to know better about their friends and enemies. At the same time I am thinking about how to train people to fill the lack of the talented people who left Afghanistan in 2021-2022.
“It has never been easy for Afghan women to understand and live in Afghanistan.”
Hassan: I find joy in helping the community in crisis with our project and bringing changes to their lives. These little hopes, the possibility of making changes, and the potential of working at the community level give me a reason to stay, work harder, and find a future for myself in Afghanistan. It has never been easy for Afghan women to understand and live in Afghanistan for the last 20 years, and they will not be at ease after the regime change. However, the goal is not to quit and easily give up on our dreams, values, and, most notably, our home.