Rahela Nayebzadah is the author of Monster Child.
On the morning of Aug. 15, 2021, I was on the phone with my cousin from Kabul. I’ll never forget hearing the sound of gunshots being fired outside his home as he desperately tried to hide his books, paintings, his son’s toys, and even parts of his body. “They’ll chop my arm off if they see my tattoos,” he cried over the phone. Our conversation ended with him pleading, “Please do not forget our voices.”
The world has forgotten their voices.
It has been one year since the West’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the situation has only worsened. Political leaders have remained silent as the Taliban have sent the country of my birth back to the Dark Ages.
Afghanistan is the only country to ban girls and women from pursuing a high-school education. Purdah, the practice of secluding women from public observation through dress code and designating certain areas only for women, is once again being enforced. The Taliban has closed shelters for women fleeing domestic abuse. Women are required to wear the burka in public and are forbidden to drive long distances, from working many kinds of jobs, or to leave their homes without being accompanied by a male family member.
Earlier this summer Fawzia Koofi, a former deputy speaker in the Afghan parliament, told the UN Human Rights Council that “every day there is at least one or two women who commit suicide for the lack of opportunity, for the mental health, for the pressure they receive,” while Richard Bennett, special rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan, told the council that the Taliban is trying to make women “invisible by excluding them almost entirely from society.”
If the country remains under Taliban rule, Afghanistan’s future is bleak. Women, children and LGBTQ individuals will suffer, as will Sikhs, Shia Muslims and other religious minorities. The country’s economy collapsed over the past year, and the UN Refugee Agency says that 24 million people in Afghanistan require “vital humanitarian relief.” The situation in Afghanistan could become even more catastrophic, and yet it has seemingly fallen off the world’s radar.
With the war in Ukraine dominating the headlines these past six months, Afghans especially feel hopeless and forgotten. Afghans have had to listen to reporters cover the war in Ukraine as an uncommon occurrence and its people as “civilized” – as if Afghans are barbaric, and the country prone to war. They’ve also seen Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, grace the cover of Vogue, dreaming that one day the women of Afghanistan – those who put their lives at risk by taking to the streets to fight for their basic human rights – will receive the same recognition and praise.
However, it’s not only non-Afghans who’ve forgotten about Afghanistan. Our own people have also turned away. Where are the rallies, protests and fundraisers for the women of Afghanistan? Where’s the outrage? Even my family in Afghanistan tells me that many of their relatives and friends in the West no longer call them. “They’re afraid we’ll ask them for money. We’re a burden not just to political leaders, but to our own families,” they tell me.
The Taliban are terrorists. They should not be given a voice. Social-networking sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook should ban the Taliban from having accounts. And, most importantly, the Taliban must be banned from travelling internationally.
Society needs to come together to support those the West left behind. Afghans in Western countries, especially, need to come together. We need to push political leaders into fighting for women’s rights in Afghanistan and accepting more refugees. Recently, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced that spots for the special Afghan immigration program are nearly full. Millions of Afghans will die at the hands of the Taliban if Western countries do not accept more refugees.
I speak with my family in Afghanistan every day, just to make sure they’re alive. Every day, I listen to them speak of suicide and pray for a drone strike. “It’ll put an end to all of our sufferings,” my cousin tells me. Hearing such things eventually takes a toll on one’s mental health. Staying strong for the sake of my family has been extremely difficult, but at the end of the day, it isn’t about me. It’s about listening to their voices, stories and struggles. I need to listen. We all need to listen.
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