Afghan Women on What They Left Behind

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in her words

Four Afghan women who sought refuge successful America speech astir their lives present and everything they gave up.

Laila, a erstwhile  ineligible  advisor  and defence  lawyer   successful  Afghanistan, astatine  location  with her girl  successful  Woodbridge, Va.
Credit...Valerie Plesch for The New York Times

Sept. 14, 2021Updated 4:52 p.m. ET

— Laila, who moved to the U.S. successful 2016


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Since the United States and its allies toppled the Taliban successful 2001, the rights of Afghan women person animated overmuch of the planetary communicative astir the war. Even amid the devastation, determination were recognizable signs of progress: Afghan girls going to schoolhouse and Afghan women getting assemblage degrees, taking jobs and participating much successful nationalist life. Burqas came off, billboards for quality salons went up. Female journalists fearlessly questioned Taliban leaders connected T.V. Other women became mayors and ambassadors. Bit by bit, slowly, steadily, women — though mostly successful municipality areas — wriggled retired from nether the Taliban’s conservative, theocratic thumb.

It took conscionable days for overmuch of that advancement to travel crashing down. Since the Taliban took backmost power of Afghanistan successful August, each caller time has brought caller restrictions connected women — present they can’t play sports and assemblage classes volition beryllium segregated by gender — raising concerns that the state is rapidly regressing to a repressive past.

Today, it is precisely those women who broke from the accepted way who are astir endangered. Many person gone into hiding. Hundreds person taken to the streets, protesting the regime, lone to beryllium met by the brute unit of firearm butts and sticks. Others fled.

But to fly was thing new. Afghan women and their families person agelong sought refuge successful different parts of the world. Those who person fled person recovered themselves divided betwixt an unfamiliar aboriginal successful an unfamiliar spot and a past successful a beloved state wherever career, household and assemblage are near behind, retired of reach.

The Times spoke with 4 women who person sought refuge successful America. All 4 fled — immoderate recently, immoderate not — due to the fact that they were endangered backmost home. The heartbreak is heavy, but they are not surprised: They knew the abstraction that they had cautiously carved retired for themselves successful nine would rapidly beryllium eroded. They had warned of it each along.

The women’s past names and different identifying details are being withheld due to the fact that they fearfulness for the information of their relatives inactive successful Afghanistan. Conversations person been edited for clarity and length.


Arrived successful the U.S. successful February

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Credit...Valerie Plesch for The New York Times

As a TV journalist, I went to screen the bid negotiations with the Taliban successful Doha, Qatar, past October. When I was there, I interviewed Suhail Shaheen, the spokesperson for the Taliban. I spoke to him without covering my hairsbreadth and helium was precise uncomfortable — it was unintentional but that brushwood became large news.

After the bid talks, the Taliban started targeting and assassinating journalists. A mates of my colleagues were killed, and I was told that I was besides connected the Taliban’s deed list. Security forces told maine to enactment astatine location and enactment low. Those fewer days hiding successful Kabul were the astir hard days of my life. I person ne'er felt fearfulness similar that. When it was a small safer, I went to the French Embassy to get a visa and near Kabul immediately.

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Credit...Valerie Plesch for The New York Times

The time that Kabul fell to the Taliban, I shaved disconnected each my hair. I was astatine my friend’s location watching the quality and I was conscionable heartbroken and needed to do something. I watched the Taliban spell to the Tolo TV studio, and I couldn’t assistance but deliberation that the aforesaid radical who killed truthful galore of my colleagues were sitting successful the aforesaid workplace wherever I utilized to enactment each time with my colleagues. Now the Taliban person taken implicit the streets of Kabul — the aforesaid streets wherever we, my generation, worked, protested and made euphony and art.

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Credit...Valerie Plesch for The New York Times

A woman’s beingness successful Afghanistan has ne'er been casual — not adjacent during the past 20 years. The quality present is that their lives volition go much difficult. Everyone sympathizes with the women of Afghanistan, but it’s clip present to alteration your perception. The women of Afghanistan don’t request your sympathy, they request the satellite to instrumentality work for the messiness it created.


Arrived successful the U.S. successful December

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Credit...Valerie Plesch

The Taliban killed 2 of my brothers due to the fact that we are Shiite Hazara. When the Taliban took implicit Mazar-i-Sharif backmost successful 1998, I was lone 3 years old, and that’s erstwhile they killed my brother, who was lone 13. They changeable him successful the thorax and the limb and near him connected the street. We were not adjacent allowed to cod his body. Then my 2nd member was killed successful Takhar Province successful 2001. My begetter couldn’t instrumentality it, it was excessively overmuch for him, and helium conscionable passed distant by bosom attack.

Something similar that conscionable destroys your full imaginativeness of humanity. It destroys your full childhood.

Last November, I started receiving anonymous telephone calls constantly. At first, I thought it wasn’t serious. But then, a mates of days later, I saw a car extracurricular the gathering wherever I utilized to live, which was unusual due to the fact that the gathering had a store successful the basement and parking wasn’t allowed successful beforehand of the building. When I started walking, the car started moving, pursuing me. Later that day, aft I was done with enactment and leaving my office, I saw the car again. Then it happened again the adjacent day. A fewer days aft that, astatine 3:20 a.m., idiosyncratic knocked connected my flat door. That’s erstwhile I got scared. I told my brag and my mum. And my mum told me, “I don’t privation to suffer different child, you person to leave.”

So I came to the U.S. connected a tourer visa successful December 2020, I had nary choice. This was not thing I planned and it was not thing I truly wanted to do. I came with a backpack with a fewer apparel and my laptop, that’s it.

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Credit...Valerie Plesch

Back successful Afghanistan, astatine this moment, my household is hiding. They near our location a time earlier the metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif fell. The past clip that I spoke to my mum was astir 2 a.m. that time for 5 minutes, and she told maine that they are alive, harmless and hiding determination and she told maine not to beryllium worried. But since then, the transportation is down, the net is down, they person nary entree to anything. I’m conscionable waiting and waiting.

Every azygous day, I aftermath up with a dense chest. I was erstwhile a relation exemplary for my generation, they saw maine arsenic idiosyncratic who was helping marque a quality for them. And present look wherever I am. I don’t adjacent person anticipation for myself. I americium mislaid — mislaid betwixt borders.


Moved to the U.S. successful 2016

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Credit...Valerie Plesch for The New York Times

My begetter was a subject wide and my parent was a housewife. When I was born, determination was a warfare successful Afghanistan, truthful my begetter took america to Pakistan. I was 1 oregon 2 years old. I returned to Kabul erstwhile I was a teenager.

Understand the Taliban Takeover successful Afghanistan


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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose successful 1994 amid the turmoil that came aft the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan successful 1989. They utilized brutal nationalist punishments, including floggings, amputations and wide executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s much connected their root communicative and their grounds arsenic rulers.

At Kabul University, I studied Islamic instrumentality and I became a defence lawyer and ineligible adviser. I traveled to provinces successful Afghanistan, and I worked with women’s and children’s rights.

As you know, Afghan women endure a batch from their families and determination were a batch of challenging cases for me. I worked with 1 pistillate who was sexually abused by her father-in-law portion her hubby was successful Pakistan, and she was alone. I helped her get a divorcement and his household came aft me, injuring maine and stabbing maine doubly with a weapon successful my thigh.

After that case, determination was a batch of information for maine successful Afghanistan. My hubby worked with the U.S. subject — helium had a operation institution — and we came present due to the fact that helium was endangered, too.

We usually spell to Afghanistan erstwhile a year. But this year, due to the fact that of the Taliban, I don’t deliberation we volition spell anymore. We speech to our household and they conscionable accidental to me, “It’s OK, we are fine.” But successful fact, due to the fact that of maine and my sisters — some my sisters trained arsenic journalists — each my family’s successful danger.

It was this mode earlier the Taliban also, but present it is much dangerous.

The radical of Afghanistan — we were calved successful warfare and we grew up successful warfare and we are inactive successful war. We don’t cognize astir our future, and what happens next. Maybe it’s worse.

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Credit...Valerie Plesch for The New York Times

All these things are happening due to the fact that galore Afghan radical are not educated. The terrorists, the mujahedeen, the Taliban, ISIS, their mentality is not matched with educated people. But the educated Afghans, you know, they are truthful unfastened minded, truthful good, they privation everything for everyone, for each azygous quality being. With education, astatine slightest radical cognize their rights.

I’m not giving up. I’m not silent. With my friends, I americium organizing protests successful Washington. And we person Afghans astir the world, making protests successful antithetic countries. We are making caller hashtags. This is the caller thing.

You request to beryllium an Afghan to recognize the Afghan situation, particularly the women’s situation. In Afghanistan, women are each heroes. They are dying each day, but they are ne'er giving up. And 1 of them is me.


Moved to the U.S. successful 2016

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Credit...Valerie Plesch for The New York Times

When the Taliban took implicit successful 1996, I was 19 years aged successful my last twelvemonth of college. In fact, they took implicit the time I sat for my past exam.

Right aft college, I started moving for an planetary nonprofit enactment that trained midwives, and I was really the breadwinner for my family. My begetter was a main astatine a girls’ schoolhouse — but the Taliban closed down his schoolhouse — and my hubby was a shopkeeper. So I was supporting my family. One time connected my mode to work, portion I was large with my eldest child, the Taliban bushed maine up connected the thoroughfare — adjacent though I was wearing the burqa. They asked maine wherefore I was retired unsocial without a man.

Seven years ago, erstwhile I was moving with different nongovernmental enactment that constructs shelters for widows successful agrarian areas, the Taliban killed 4 of my co-workers due to the fact that they thought my squad was moving for overseas forces. And past I started receiving threats — the Taliban would support calling america oregon they would travel america erstwhile we went to agrarian areas for work. The NGO I worked for told maine to evacuate immediately. I went home, picked up my household and left, without packing anything. My oldest kid was 12 then.

We traveled to different state wherever we don’t talk the connection and wherever we didn’t cognize the civilization oregon anything. My hubby carried people’s worldly — furniture, luggage, groceries, immoderate — for a spot of cash. We didn’t person capable nutrient truthful I would cautiously number each spot that I was feeding my children. We rented 1 country and it was highly hot. The windows were broken. We didn’t person a fridge. The ceiling was afloat of mold.

After 2 years, the U.N.H.C.R. helped maine process my lawsuit and we arrived successful the U.S. arsenic refugees.

The Taliban assertion to beryllium antithetic now. But radical can’t conscionable hide oregon forgive each the killings. Almost each household successful Afghanistan present knows of idiosyncratic oregon has a household subordinate who was killed by the Taliban. The women I cognize — my grandmother, my nieces, my sisters-in-law and my sisters — reopened aged boxes of the burqas that they had packed distant 20 years ago. And conscionable 2 days earlier the Taliban took implicit again, the state released the scores of the nationalist assemblage entranceway exams. A miss got the highest score successful the country. What happens to her now?

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