By Jessica Sutton and Patrick McTague.
Content warning: this article contains graphic details of violence which may be distressing.
The world feels devastating right now. Afghanistan has fallen into the control of the Taliban, and a women’s rights crisis has arisen. Although the Taliban has claimed that they will be less repressive towards women, the fear of a return to the oppressive prior regime is potent. This is an extremely distressing time for anyone committed to women’s rights causes. We consider that it would be inappropriate to write about this issue ourselves, as the most important voices at this time are the voices of Afghan women and girls. So, we present to you an easy reference point for a selection of testimonies from women in Afghanistan and links to humanitarian organisations that need support. We all need to get informed and give what help we can. Let’s educate ourselves and others. Donate to Afghan organisations. Appreciate our privilege, and do something with it.
Here are some articles from women and girls on the ground in Afghanistan, telling their stories. These are the voices that need to be heard and amplified the loudest. This is the reality of the situation.
Please note that the final entry in this non-exhaustive list is particularly distressing.
“Watching what is happening in Afghanistan, I feel total devastation. When a whole country collapses, it brings down with it things both big and small. As it stands the Afghan state has collapsed, and the public no longer has a government. It fills me with such fear when I think about this. Who do you go to for help? Who is responsible for your protection? But there are smaller things that are at stake that hurt more personally, like my cousin’s aspiration of being a doctor. She’s in fourth year medical school, and we are afraid that she’s going to lose all that. All of the things that women from Afghanistan have worked so hard for are disappearing. It’s a devastation that I find hard to describe.”– Zarlasht Halaimzai
“Meanwhile, the men standing around were making fun of girls and women, laughing at our terror. “Go and put on your chadari [burqa],” one called out. “It is your last days of being out on the streets,” said another. “I will marry four of you in one day,” said a third.”-Anonymous Kabul resident
“All that I have worked for, all of my dreams, have become zero, multiplied by more zeroes.”
“My decision to leave my home and life was not planned. It happened very suddenly. In the past days my whole province has fallen to the Taliban. The only places that the government still controls are the airport and a few police district offices. I’m not safe because I’m a 22-year-old woman and I know that the Taliban are forcing families to give their daughters as wives for their fighters. I’m also not safe because I’m a news journalist and I know the Taliban will come looking for me and all of my colleagues.”-Anonymous journalist
“And it’s not just men. Violence like this is a cycle and mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law who grow up experiencing violence then continue that. Sometimes they are the direct abuser, but mostly, they are instigating their brother or their son – ‘your wife doesn’t listen to me, she’s not obedient, she’s not cooking well, she’s not doing the housework,’ you know. Then her son or brother does the actual beating up. She fuels the fire. Violence – it’s just become a way of life. It happens everywhere.”-Manizha
“They had the dreams to be a doctor. They had the dreams to be a nurse, their dreams to be engineers, their dreams to be part of their country to build their country…It just breaks my heart to see that my country is bleeding.”-Shogar
“When they announced earlier that women would be allowed to study and go to work, I got excited. But then I experienced the reality in my office where I was told that women won’t be allowed to work. I showed them my identity cards, but still, they asked me to go home.”-Shabnam Dawran
“I haven’t been able to sleep since the day I arrived. I can only sleep two hours in a day… Overnight, everything I had has vanished.”-Dr Akbari
“The Taliban took four years of my life, when I was very young…It should have had time to study and enjoy my life but they didn’t allow me to even leave our home. I will never get those years back.”-Adela Kabiri
“Despite all that has happened, I will not give up on educating girls in this country because education is empowerment. I have to work; I can’t imagine doing nothing. It doesn’t matter if I stay at home or go out to school; my life is at risk in both places anyway. I take precautionary measures like if in some places it is necessary to wear Burka I will wear it and we often move from place to place. I have to do my job.”-Parween
“I am thinking of all the mothers in Afghanistan, the mothers of girls. They have lost their tears because of the Taliban.”-Mursal
“My father was pressuring me to marry a man of 45, but I refused. I expected to be beaten behind closed doors. I never imagined dishonour and mistreatment in a public place. First my father and brother stabbed my hand with a knife then three times in the side. Then my father put his feet on either side of me and he began to slaughter me like a sheep. When he reached for my throat, I said my prayers. He said – is she dead? My brother said yes, cover her with the burka, and they left. When I regained consciousness, I pushed my intestines back in my body and got up. I could see two people coming towards me with flashlights. I couldn’t speak because my throat was split open. Covering the wound I tried to tell them what happened.”-Anonymous 15 year old girl
It’s natural to feel distressed and overwhelmed when you hear about what is happening Afghanistan. We recommend channelling that emotion into volunteering with refugee support or making donations to Afghan causes. We can all do a little to help. Here is a non-exhaustive list of organisations that need your support.
“Women for Afghan Women (WAW) is heartbroken at the speed and extent to which the violence and escalating conflict in Afghanistan has threatened the innocent lives of millions and displaced hundreds of thousands. But we are determined to employ every resource we have to meet the needs of the emergency currently engulfing Afghanistan and its people.”
“Women for Women International has developed a program that offers Afghan women a constructive, dignified way to discover their power. Our foundational training helps women know and defend their rights, lead mentally and physically healthy lives, influence decisions at home and in their communities, generate income, and save money for the future, contributing to economic self-sufficiency in their lives and for their families. In a recent randomized control trial, our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program in Afghanistan showed that there was a significant impact on women’s social and economic well-being a year after graduating from our program.”
“Afghan women report that their homes are being invaded, their organizations are being looted, men are blocking them from the airport gates, and they acutely fear for their lives and for their families. We are in contact with activists, in situ, who are being aggressively threatened and harassed by the Taliban…Women’s Regional Network grants flow directly into our key grantee’s UK bank account. Then the grants are disbursed in small amounts inside Afghanistan via trusted money exchange companies with branches inside Afghanistan. If you truly believe, as we do, that women’s rights are human rights, this is the time to prove it.”
“Across Afghanistan, thousands of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes. With the Taliban now in power, families, communities, and livelihoods are more threatened than ever. GlobalGiving is working closely with our partners on the ground to get emergency support to people in Afghanistan and those fleeing the country. Your donation will go to vetted nonprofits working in the region, as well as those working to help Afghan refugees.”
“Miles4Migrants uses donated frequent flyer miles, credit card points, and cash to help people impacted by war, persecution, or disaster reunite with loved ones and start new beginnings in safe homes.”
“We are working around the clock doing everything we can to evacuate our girls, and we are asking our global community for support. This fundraiser is now dedicated entirely to Ascends emergency evacuation and resettlement efforts, and to provide continuing support to young women who remain Afghanistan.”
“Over the past seven years, I have worked as a journalist for various Afghan media outlets. Often the only woman in the room, I understood early on that women’s views are not considered, and our voices are routinely sidelined. To change this, in November 2020, I established Rukhshana Media—named after the woman who was stoned to death by the Taliban in 2015 — to produce news from the perspective of women. Since then, Rukhshana Media has reported exclusively on issues that affect Afghan women, from the taboo of menstruation, child marriage, street harassment and economic hardship to violence and gender discrimination and what it means to live as a survivor of rape. We have reported across the country, working with a small team of five female reporters and volunteers.”
“We believe in democratizing access to security information for all Afghans. Currently, verified and real-time reports are only accessible to a very small group of individuals, those with power and privilege. We’re developing cutting edge technology to reach as many Afghans as possible – providing them with the information they need to feel protected and safer, no matter where they are.”
“The crisis is taking the heaviest toll on women and children, who make up 80% of Afghanistan’s refugees and internally displaced people. Alongside homelessness and the threat of violence, they’re facing drought, food scarcity, COVID-19 and a health system at breaking point. Help us prepare for the worst. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is providing Afghans with emergency shelter, food, water, and health care, but our supplies are running dangerously low. We urgently need your help to scale up our supplies, so that we can help people trapped inside Afghanistan, as well as refugees forced to flee to neighbouring countries.”
“The ICRC has served the people of Afghanistan for 30 years. We won’t stop now. The ICRC is not evacuating or withdrawing staff from Afghanistan. We have no plans to reduce our international staff presence and remain operational across the country, together with our partner the Afghan Red Crescent.”
“The IRC has been supporting Afghan families since 1988, and we will stay and deliver now. Your donation could help the IRC set up mobile health clinics, distribute cash to provide families with essentials and work with Afghans to find livelihood opportunities.”
“To improve access to safe, free and quality education, Malala Fund’s work in Afghanistan is focused on addressing a nation-wide shortage of female teachers through recruitment and improving education quality and learning outcomes by investing more in teacher training development. Malala Fund initiated our work in Afghanistan in 2017 with close to $1.9M invested in local organisations. Present circumstances have impacted those programmes, but we are committed to the safety and security of our grantees and advancing girls’ education in the region.”
“Over 250,000 girls attended the schools we helped to support. Every day we showed our belief in them and their futures. Even in difficult times, the power that comes from educating a girl is not erased. They will have daughters and sons who will hear their lessons and learn from their experiences. Right now, the voices of many Afghan women are muted for security and safety. They will emerge again. Now, it is our voices that need to be heard supporting all Afghans, especially the women and girls in Afghanistan. We urge you to speak up for their protection and show your solidarity.”
Life in Afghanistan for women is dire right now. We are at a critical point where your support matters to bring focus to the situation and aid women and girls on the ground. This is a setback of monumental proportion with terrifying consequences, but all is not lost. We know how powerful women are, how resilient, and we know that Afghan women and girls will fight back. Progress cannot, and will not, be stopped.