A year after the Taliban's takeover, Afghanistan has become 'a cage for Afghan women,' activist Yalda Royan says
a year after the taliban's takeover, afghanistan has become 'a

A year after the Taliban’s takeover, Afghanistan has become ‘a cage for Afghan women,’ activist Yalda Royan says

women protesting, holding banners on a street in Kabul, AfghanistanKABUL, AFGHANISTAN – AUGUST 13: Taliban fighters fired into the air as they dispersed a rare rally by women as they chanted “Bread, work and freedom” and marched in front of the education ministry building, days ahead of the first anniversary of the hardline Islamists’ return to power, on August 13, 2022 in Kabul, Afghanistan. The collapse of the economy and the freezing of Afghan and donor funds after the Taliban takeover of the country in August 2021 created a humanitarian crisis. Most art, culture and pastimes have been banned. The female population have also had to quit jobs and young girls after the age of 12 can no longer go to school or complete further education.

  • Yalda Royan is a feminist activist who fled Kabul, Afghanistan, in August 2021.
  • Speaking to Insider, she reflected on a year in exile and the sudden loss of 20 years’ progress.
  • Taliban leaders have not moderated, she said: “They are denying and lying to the world.”

A year ago, Yalda Royan lost everything: “my country, my home, my job, my people,” she told Insider.

A women’s rights activist, she was living in Kabul with her two daughters when Taliban militants entered the city. By that point, Afghanistan’s political leaders had already fled the capital, reportedly taking large bags of cash with them.

Former President Ashraf Ghani now lives in an undisclosed, gulf state villa. Royan lives in an apartment in Virginia, evacuated from the Afghan capital amid gunfire and terrostic violence, a “horrifying” and “undignified” exodus from life as she knew it.

In exile, Royan continues to fight for the country she left behind as the country team lead for the feminist organization VOICE Amplified. She is also a founding member of the Afghan Women’s Advocacy Group who, in June, spoke before the United Nations’ Security Council, blasting “the negligence of the international community” in the face of Afghanistan’s new, misogynistic leadership, where despite early promises, young women and girls are still barred from receiving an education.

In an interview with Insider, Royan reflected on the year since the US withdrawal and the Taliban conquest of Afghanistan — and what she sees as the international community’s complicity.

Are you at all surprised by the state of Afghanistan a year after that Taliban took over? Or is it about what you would’ve expected the country to look like?

No, I am not surprised, actually. Before, when the peace talks between the United States and Taliban started, we started to warn the international community — when I say “we,” it means the women’s rights activists from Afghanistan. We kept calling on them and saying that the Taliban has not changed. And once they take the rule, they will again make the lives of Afghan women a misery. We didn’t want to lose the gains that we had in the last 20 years. But one year after the takeover, we see what we were calling from the beginning, and that’s what exactly is happening right now there. So it’s not a surprise. It’s not a shock. We were expecting that this would happen. We did alert the international community, but nobody listened to us. And it’s actually the result of the negligence of the international community.

And what is the state of Afghanistan, from your perspective?

Afghanistan has now become a kind of cage for Afghan women; the birds who cannot fly out of it, just stuck inside the home without rights to movement, rights to education, rights to work — any basic right. And at the same time, for all other Afghan people, it is like losing dignity, losing human rights, losing economic opportunities, and just living under the poverty line. That’s how it looks right now — and also the safe haven for the terrorist groups. As we saw last week, the Al-Qaeda leader was killed inside Kabul, in the capital of Afghanistan.

I was looking at a speech that you gave to the UN Security Council in June where you said the Taliban had been implementing policies that were aimed at “systematically eliminating women from all aspects of society.” You also mentioned that only some of these policies have made international headlines. So I’m wondering if you could just talk about what the Taliban has been doing to eliminate women from society and what, in particular, you think journalists like me have not been reporting on enough — like what has been under the radar in terms of their treatment of women.

In international media, we can only see the which is on women’s rights to work, women’s rights to education, and women’s rights to movement, which made the international headlines. But the, the smaller aspects of women’s lives have only been covered in local media. And we are hearing it from the woman’s rights activist inside Afghanistan, which is, for example: going to a restaurant, it is not allowed anymore for a woman, even if she is with a family; the right to what to wear and what not to wear, that’s something that they have imposed on the women; very recently the Ministry of Finance, for example, has asked women to send their male members of the family to work instead of them — so the woman cannot work, but a male family member could go and work instead of that woman.

And there are women-headed families who do not even have a man, so we don’t know what will happen to those families. Now, for example, tailors are not allowed to take the measure of the bodies of women; the other example is that women cannot sit in the front seat of a car, or they have to be accompanied by a male chaperone. So these are some of the details that does not make it to the international media. And the other thing that is being discussed on media and, at the meetings that I attend, at a high level, is, “Do they really impose these decisions on women, or is it just that they’re making the decisions and announce it?” Which is very, very concerning for myself, at least, because what we hear from inside Afghanistan is that they’re imposing these decisions.

Just yesterday in one of the provinces, in Bayman, it’s a Hazara resident province, women were beaten because they were wearing jeans. Ten women were beaten, very harshly, just because what they were wearing. So this is imposing those decisions. And the Taliban also claim in international media, for example, that “Yes, we have made the forced hijab as optional. “But it is not optional. Women who do not cover their faces, they’re being beaten, they’re being intimidated. And they’re being humiliated for that.

Who is exposing the truth of what’s really happening in Afghanistan? When you say women were beaten — are there still feminist activists or women’s rights activists in Afghanistan who are reporting to you or to the broader Afghan diaspora?

Yes. On a daily basis, I and every other women’s rights activist is in touch with women’s human rights defenders inside of Afghanistan. And we get these updates from them. And some of the local media that are operating, for example, from outside of Afghanistan, they are also able to report some of these atrocities. But those inside of Afghanistan, they are censored; they are not allowed to cover these news.

Is it your belief that some in the international community are trying to convince themselves that the reality on the ground is not as harsh as what you’re hearing?

Yes, my own analysis is that the international community is looking for excuses to engage with the Taliban to keep them in power. And that’s why whatever lies or whatever fake or false information that the Taliban is giving them, they are believing in. I have been sharing some updates on an ethnic minority with some of the United Nations Security Council members, and this is honestly what I hear from them is that, “We don’t get these updates directly.” And what they hear is from the Taliban and, just as I said, some of the news that makes it to international media. So there are two reasons: one, that the international community believes the Taliban still; and the second thing is that there is lack of access to real information from the ground.

What alternative is there though for the international community to engaging the Taliban? Obviously they rule the country. In fact, on the other side, there’s the criticism that the US and others have cut off or suspended a lot of Afghanistan’s money. And there’s the thinking that as much as we dislike the Taliban, this is not harming them at the top. It’s harming regular Afghans to not provide this aid or just to not engage the Taliban.

It is not only the reserve funds of the central bank of Afghanistan that the US and international community has stopped — funding for women, peace, and security, or for responses to gender-based violence, domestic violence, and other activities that women were benefiting from has totally been stopped in the last year. So they are punishing women in different ways.

One, that the international community, specifically the US, left Afghan woman alone by betraying them. Second, that they stopped all the funding for the Afghan women-led organizations inside of Afghanistan. And also that the reserve funds of the central bank, although my personal perspective is that the reserve funds of Afghanistan belong to the people of Afghanistan and it should not be given to the hands of the Taliban at this point, until we have a legitimate government. Because whatever happens, people will benefit from that.

The [Afghan] people were not involved when 9/11 happened — it was the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and right now the money should not be handed over to the Taliban or should not be allowed to fuel their terrorist activities through that, which they do already through the humanitarian aid. So I think it shouldn’t be given to the Taliban and also it shouldn’t be used for the humanitarian aid, because humanitarian aid has a specific [mechanism] from the United Nations. There is no need for the reserve funds to be spent for that purpose.

I guess what you’re saying is there’s no need for funds for women led organizations to be going through, of course, the Taliban at all. You can go directly to these groups on the ground.

Actually the funds for the women’s rights organizations have many other channels to be transferred to Afghanistan. So it’s not on always the the central bank, there are so many other ways, as I said, like Western Union, like, for example, the hawala system that we have in Afghanistan. But the fact that the international community is punishing Afghan women and has left them alone, I can’t find any reason for that.

Given the fact that the Taliban’s obviously so hungry for international recognition and legitimacy, are you at all surprised that they haven’t moderated at all in practice? Because when they came back in last year, there was at least talk that they were not the same Taliban, right? But you’re saying the reality on the ground — it sounds just as harsh as it was in the 90s.

Well, the Taliban has not changed, as I said in the beginning, and we have kept saying this. The other thing is the practice of denial that the Taliban is [engaging in]. Remember when the Oslo talks were happening, girls were literally under their custody and being tortured by them. But their representative in Oslo was denying that they have detained these protesting girls. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International — all of these international organizations are sharing reports on the violations of human rights. But on the other hand, the Taliban are saying that, “We are not doing anything.” So they are denying and they are lying to the world.

Looking back at it a year ago and the collapse of the Afghan government, what do you see as the single greatest reason why the Taliban was able to so easily regain power and impose its will on society? Was the original sin that peace process, where it seemed like the US was looking to make a deal at any cost to rationalize a withdrawal? Or was it the withdrawal itself and how the Biden administration pursued it. Or am I being too focused on the US’s role here in contributing to the rise of the Taliban and it’s more about developments on the ground in Afghanistan that were not being covered by people like me?

Of course the US had a big hand in it: the withdrawal of the troops without any preparations, without any strategy, was one of the biggest; and the Doha peace deal was the other part of this [contributing to] the fall of our country. On the other hand, it was President Ghani’s escape and his kind of weak policies — he knew that that the provinces were falling, but he didn’t have any strategy or any plan B for how to save Kabul. So in the last minute, he left Kabul thinking that, “I can save myself,” and forgot about 40 million people who will be suffering there. So it’s two ways — it’s not only US, and it is not only Afghan politicians and the president, the former president, it’s also the regional countries who are looking for taking Afghanistan for granted for their own political benefits. There are so many factors.

And among all of them, it was only women who suffered the most, who didn’t have a hand in all of these atrocities and misery, and now they’re paying the price for it.

I wonder if you could comment then on the fact that, in the lead up to the Taliban takeover, the war was exacting the highest civilian cost, according to the UN’s records. So is there not at least a silver lining in the sense that Afghanistan is not currently at war?

So do you think war is only armed conflict? Do you think right now there is no conflict inside of Afghanistan? Do you think people are safe right now when they leave [their home] in the morning, they don’t know what’s going to happen to them next. Are they going to come back home or no, at the end of the day? Yes, there is no armed conflict and that’s not because there is no war, it’s because there is no government and opposition. But still the people are being killed. Civilians are being killed. Just look at what happened in three day consecutive days [of attacks] on Hazaras — explosions and more than 120 people killed. So is it end of war? Is it end of armed conflict?

Could you describe the circumstances that led you to leaving the country and what that was like?

When, on 15th of August, when the Taliban took over, I didn’t sleep that night because I had lost all the hopes that I had. On the 18th of August, I left home towards the airport and after spending 8 ½ hours under the hail of the bullets and gunfire, I and my two daughters were able to enter the airport. And after six days I landed in Dulles airport in Washington.

It was a horrifying trip. It was an undignified trip. And after getting here, I didn’t have any money. And it was a very, very difficult time for us. So basically I transitioned from a woman who was helping others to being a recipient of help, within a week losing my country, my home, my job, my people, my relations, my friends — everything — and becoming just as a beggar, as a person who just looks for others to help help her.

I trust that your situation’s a little bit better now, a year later.

It is a little better, but it [hasn’t] become that established or the good life that I had in Afghanistan. I have had to start from zero. You know, making a life from zero is not easy. It’s easier when you are alone or you are young, but for someone who at [my] age of me who has two teenagers dependent on her, you know how difficult it is to start from zero and to just establish another life for yourself. And even if I establish my life economically, for example, or materially — I will have an apartment or a home of my own, maybe, in two, three years — but will I have the social status that I had in a Afghanistan? Will I have the friends and networks and relatives and everybody that was around me? Or will I be able to support those people that I was a moral support to, a financial support to? Everything is gone. I don’t think I’ll be able to get these things back any soon.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: [email protected]

Read the original article on Business Insider

Go to the source link

Check Also

7 ways to troubleshoot when cellular data is not working on your iPhone

7 ways to troubleshoot when cellular data is not working on your iPhone

Your iPhone’s cellular data can occasionally malfunction. Getty Images If cellular data is not working …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.