How It Feels To Be An Afghan Woman



Like the vast majority of Afghan women, I have struggled throughout my career to overcome a deeply entrenched patriarchy, upheld by men, that considers women to be inferior. For years, I fought to defend the rights of vulnerable women—as well as my own right to the opportunities and recognition that men around me were quickly afforded. When the Taliban took control of Kabul in August 2021, all the progress made by myself and other Afghan women towards equitable social, political, and economic participation in our society disappeared. I had received threats before due to my work defending the rights of Afghan women, but with the Taliban in charge, I feared for my life. My family and I went into hiding, and later fled to Pakistan. We are safe, but there is no future here for my children. My entire life, I have defended and advocated for the rights of Afghan women, even when others have looked away. Now, the only choice I can make is to continue fighting.

Afghanistan has been a traditional and patriarchal country for many years. Men advance faster than women, and reach higher levels in their careers and in society. Boys are usually given more attention than girls. Fortunately, I was born into an intellectual family. Thanks to my parents’ efforts, I finished school and university despite the challenges that women face in Afghan society. I graduated from the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Kabul University and was fortunate enough to get a job in a government office. I worked around the clock for many years, and eventually was promoted to a managerial position. However, I saw that it was much easier for the men around me to succeed in their work, compared to the women around me. Afghan women start and end in the same place, whereas men easily rise up. The reason for this is patriarchy. Afghan men have always ruled everywhere, both at home and in the office. Regardless of whether they are skilled or qualified, regardless of whether they are educated or not, they succeed because they are men, and are given positions of power in all sectors of society. What’s more, Afghan men have always believed that women are powerless and inferior.

Despite this entrenched patriarchy in Afghanistan, I have fought to uphold to basic human rights that women deserve but are often denied, including the right to life, the right to work, the right to freedom of expression, the right to participate in political conferences, the right to education, and all other rights that men freely exercise in our society. For this reason, I have used my career both to defend women’s rights on a daily basis, as well as to prove what Afghan women are capable of, and pave the way for other women to follow in my footsteps.

A key aspect of my leadership roles throughout my career was to stand up against the injustices that men committed against women in Afghanistan. I strongly defended the rights of my sisters, including by strengthening the capacity and building the knowledge and self-sufficiency of women and girls. I established literacy schools for women and children, provided radio programs for women and girls who did not have access to educational opportunities, and taught sewing and embroidery for women and girls. My work also focused on supporting disabled women and girls, who face additional barriers and stigma in Afghan society because of their disability. When I first met many of these women and girls, their life hopes had been dashed. Through my work, I tried to give them new hope in life, so that they could support themselves and their families through skilled work, such as tailoring or embroidering.

I have always raised my voice in support of women’s rights, to defend vulnerable women, and to counter violence against women. During these efforts, I have faced many challenges and struggled against a world of problems. Often, I was the only woman in a leadership position at my workplace, and had to contend with men who disapproved of my work and mission. These men recognized that I was a women’s rights defender and advocate, and in turn sought to obstruct my work and compromise my position of influence, which I had rightfully earned after facing thousands of hardships.

Before the Taliban came to power, I received several verbal and written threats from the Taliban. The security department at my office warned me that I was the target of an assassination plan, and recommended that I change the vehicle and route I took to and from work. Other female human rights advocates in Kabul were targets of similar assassination plans during this period, and in some cases their vehicles were attacked. At that time, I was without fear and trusted in God. I continued my work as usual because I always defend human rights, and it is my responsibility as a woman to support the truth.

With the rise of the Taliban, women and girls have faced unprecedented hardships and human rights violations. Many women, including myself, lost their jobs after the Taliban took control of the country. In a few days, the Taliban stole all the successes that I and my fellow Afghan women fought for years to achieve. I have received messages from many brave Afghan women who cry at night from hopelessness.

On the first day of the Taliban’s occupation of Kabul, my car was confiscated as I was leaving my office. The Taliban took my laptop, broke the door of my office, and took my private documents. This incident haunted my children, who lost their spirit, and cried and screamed in their sleep that the Taliban had come. This horror and chaos prompted me to leave my home and go into hiding at a relative’s house. The Taliban came to my house twice to look for me in the following weeks. My children – including my four daughters – and other family members, all of whom were students when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, could no longer continue their education after that. The Taliban destroyed women’s rights in Afghanistan. Our right to education, work, and life has been taken away from us.

My family and I stayed in hiding in Kabul until a house-to-house investigation was launched by the Taliban. This posed a large risk to me and my family. It was clear that the Taliban did not value the dignity of women, which was unbelievable for me and my family. Over the next few weeks and months, the dangers and threats increased. After every new crisis and announcement that destroyed the hopes of women in Afghanistan, our stress deepened. We were plagued by concerns about our financial and security situation. I started looking for a way to save myself and my family. Eventually, I was able to bring myself and my family to Pakistan, where we are now. However, given the deteriorating economy in Pakistan, we cannot survive here for very long. Now, like many other vulnerable Afghan women, I am at the mercy of the international community to grant me a visa, so I can safeguard my future, and that of my children. This is my story, but it has been repeated over and over for all young girls, whose lives started with a hope and finished with a blurry future. No girl wants to be a refugee when she grows up.

The Taliban’s rule has subjected Afghan women to a new form of modern slavery: our lives and bodies are now controlled by the Taliban regime, and they deny us access to basic human rights. Mass forced migration of Afghans has now become common: both men and women are compelled to leave Afghanistan, since we are unable to live freely or exercise basic rights under the Taliban.

Despite my current desperation, I will rise again, and I hope to write a book about the mountain of sadness that is being an Afghan woman. We must keep fighting for what is right. Our voices will not be silenced in the face of the oppression and injustice.