I have watched the chaos in Afghanistan, like most of us, from the safety of my phone or television screen over the last few weeks. We have all witnessed the gut-wrenching footage and listened to the reports of desperate and frightened people attempting to flee their home country. Even if such an attempt was a death sentence itself. Desperation motivated by fear of the Taliban rule. Most of us will have lamented over how awful it is, been disgusted by the actions of those in power for leaving the people of Afghanistan to live with the consequences of a situation created by Western colonialism and imperialism and we will have felt heartache. Because of how helpless and useless we feel in our ability to help the situation.
I am nervous about writing this. Because I’m not a journalist, or an established activist or any sort of refined spokesperson. I am simply someone who is tired of feeling helpless when, yet another humanitarian crisis happens. I am a regular, 21-year-old woman, who cannot remotely fathom the heartache and terror that grips the civilians of Afghanistan. Most particularly the fear felt by Afghani women. I am a graduate who could not even begin to comprehend what it must feel like to apply yourself diligently to your studies, to put yourself under the stress of further education and to work so hard for your achievements, for it all to be revoked by misogynistic men. To have to ‘burn everything I have achieved’ simply because I am a woman. So, I have chosen to write a piece about it, in the hopes that it may raise awareness on the issue or at least provide an avenue of action for people who wish to help.
There has been undeniable progress in terms of women’s advancement and progress since the ejection of Taliban forces from provincial capitals. However, the U.S. National intelligence council report (drafted as early as the 2nd of April, 2021) noted that the ‘years of war have left millions of women maimed, widowed, impoverished and displaced’ – with the violence against women continuing throughout these past twenty years, even within government-controlled areas.
The Taliban have promised to the international community that women will maintain the right to stay in education. That their rights shall be protected. But the voices of women from Afghanistan tells a different story. And are we really be surprised? Would the leaders within the U.S. or the UK government take the Taliban at their word should it mean hanging their own lives in the balance of an oppressive regimes promise? I doubt it.
News reports have been accumulating from April on the reality of civilian’s experiences as the Taliban continued to advance through Afghanistan. Reports of the Taliban going door to door, taking names of, or outright kidnapping girls as young as 12 years old and marrying them off to militants. Forcing girls, widows, and single women into sex slavery. Reports of how any men who resisted the Taliban’s demands were beaten. Civilians willing to speak to foreign press have recounted how the Taliban forced residents to show the fighters the closets of clothing to determine the ages of the girls and women who lived in each home, so that they may take note of potential ‘wives’ for the fighters. Women have described it as their worst nightmare— to be kidnapped and forced into sex slavery by the Taliban. Since the fall of the capital, Kabul, the country is entirely under Taliban regime. Women have remained indoors out of fear.
So, knowing full well the tyrannical history and brutal ideology of the Taliban, the West cannot play the card of ignorance here. The evidence and reports of what was to come for all of Afghanistan has been available for a long time. Anyone could have foreseen what the consequences of the swift withdrawal of western presence would mean for the civilians of Afghanistan. In 2001, America pledged that ‘Women’s equality was at the heart of the US-led intervention into Afghanistan’, with the UK government commenting that success would only be achieved ‘when the freedom of women and girls was won.’
But this was a lie. I can only speak from the perspective of a citizen of the North of Ireland, currently part of the UK, thus having the right to hold them to account. I write this as a woman who has been continually lied to by the UK government, who claims to care about the equality, safety, and advancement of women’s rights. But they do not. And I wish everyone would wake up and see that.
Their abandonment of Afghani women amid an already known volatile situation is only one example of the many ways in which the UK government has shown themselves to be the liars they are. This is amid a series of cruel and repressive actions the UK government has taken exposing their lack of care for women.
To name only but a few examples, such actions include the slashing of the foreign aid budget. Most of the cuts impacting the wellbeing of girls, with more than a 40% cut for aid regarding girl’s educations, and imposed cuts of 70- 80% to the international Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition. This is under the rule of a Prime Minister who has personally promoted himself as an ‘advocate for girl’s advancement and education.’ Or how about the creation of the hostile environment? Curtesy of Priti Patel, who has passed unimaginably inhumane laws such as the criminalisation of saving a drowning asylum seeker, the blocking of safe and accessible routes for asylum seekers, or housing asylum seekers in army barracks which the High court itself ruled to be ‘unlawful and irrational.’ Patel’s hostile environment policies disproportionately negatively impact women wishing to seek asylum and safety. Not to mention the deafening silence and reluctance from the Government in tackling (or even going as far to name) terrorism perpetrated within the UK. Like the recent terror attack in Plymouth. The perpetrator was a white male UK citizen, who openly discussed his misogynistic ideology and membership of the underground Incel movement. And yet, despite his actions being motivated by a radicalized, misogynistic, and dangerous ideology, the government continues to belittle and dismiss the threat to women within its own society.
So, what is my point in drawing attention to the shameless hypocrisy and cruelty of the UK government within a piece intended to focus on what the fall of Afghanistan to the rule of Taliban will mean for Afghani women? My point is this: the powerful Governments of the western world, the supposed protectors and forces of democracy and human rights, need to start being held to account. As citizens of those democracies, we need to utilise our position of privilege and understand it is our duty to hold our leaders to account. For if we do not begin to do so, our own safety will only become more vulnerable. What has happened in Afghanistan, and to so many other countries that have experienced societal collapse, should be a warning sign to us all– that the civil and human rights we take for granted are not a given. For if the powers of democracy are so ready to abandon an entire nation of people to tyrannical rule, a beast in which the West played a huge role in creating, then we need to do more to protect our rights.
For no one’s human rights are protected unless all of our human rights are protected. Solidarity and collaboration in all forms, as feminists, as women, and as members of humanity, has never been more needed or vital.
In this recent Guardian article an anonymous woman speaks of how she feels she is the victim of a political war that men started. This statement rings true for what most women’s experience of conflict is. As a post conflict nation ourselves, this is something worth taking note of. There is an abundance of literature and evidence to support that in the context of conflict, women’s exposure to sexual and gender-based violence is at a much higher rate than men. The need for global solidarity in fighting for women’s equality, advancement, and safety has never been greater.
Here is one thing we can be certain of: Afghani women’s lives will change dramatically, likely for the worse. So, what can we do about it? We can choose to tune in. To educate ourselves. Sign that petition. Go to a protest! Campaign. Lobby, and hold your contemporaries and those in power to account. Let your local MLA, Politician, or your government know that this human rights atrocity has not been committed in your name or with your consent.
I will end this piece on a (hopefully) constructive note by including several charities helping Afghani civilians and women currently which you can donate to or volunteer with. I will also include a link to an interactive map for those of you that are in NI so that you can find out who your local MLA is and get in touch to express your wishes for them to offer asylum and any other form of help we can to displaced people.
Many thanks if you read up until this point!
Eva (WRDA Volunteer)
- International Committee of the Red Cross
- Choose love
- Mercy Corps
- Rukshana Media
- Women for Refugee Women
- The Linda Norgrove Foundation
- The UN Refugee Agency
Link to Interactive map:
Link to MLA email details (NI):
Further resources and articles discussing the historical and present context of Afghanistan:
- The National Geographic: as the Taliban return, Afghanistan’s past threatens its future.
- Afghan women fear return to the dark days amid Taliban sweep