Gul Bano* and Karima* are activists who ran provincial branches of the women’s affairs ministry in two different parts of Afghanistan. Its former offices have been taken over by the feared enforcers of the Taliban, the ministry for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice. Now they are hidden fear of the men they helped jail for domestic violence and other abuses, many of them in the Taliban or with family ties to the militants.
I know of at least four women activists or government workers who have been killed in the last four months, and one who was kidnapped and it’s not clear what happened to her.
I moved from my province to a bigger city in July, but the security situation there was also bad, so I left for Kabul, planning to get my passport and leave the country. Unfortunately, my family and the Taliban arrived in Kabul on the same day and we are still waiting for the passports.
I defended women for the last 15 years, that’s why the Taliban want me. I supported women who were victims of violence, and I was threatened for that even during the last government. Six women in our office have been murdered in recent years.
In the early days of the Taliban rule I received many calls asking where is this woman and that woman you supported, what is her address.
The women we supported and helped to escape from violent situations were mostly from very remote regions and villages under Taliban control, so their relatives were Taliban. And these were some of the people who called me and threatened me.
Many of the abusers had been imprisoned because of our women’s rights work, then the Taliban took over and released all the prisoners, and now most of the threats come from these abusers. From their point of view, I’m not even a Muslim because I was defending women’s rights.
I don’t feel safe here. We change places every week and I have told even my closest relatives that we already left Afghanistan. We are in a crisis because we have no salary to pay the rent, in addition to fears about the Taliban, we also have to worry about cold and hunger.
We applied for asylum everywhere we could think of, including the UK, and we haven’t heard back, so here I am with my husband and children, sitting and waiting. I am sure that I will not be able to stay in Afghanistan. Even if I don’t get support, I’ll be smuggled into Iran, Tajikistan or Pakistan.
I have been living in fear and shock since the fall of Kabul. We did a women’s protest and they tried to attack us and arrest us. So now I am in hiding and always under direct threat because of my work as a women’s rights activist and [former] Government employee.
I have been receiving threatening calls on a daily basis, not only from the Taliban but also from relatives and relatives of those women I tried to defend. They tell me: “We are following you, we see you but you don’t see us”.
Even during the previous government there were several attempts on my life by these men, from which fortunately I came out unscathed.
I ran away from my house when the Taliban took it over, looted all my possessions and took all my documents. It is in a very good neighborhood, and now one of the most important Taliban officials in the province lives there, which breaks my heart.
I was defending women’s rights in that house and the Taliban live there now. It hurts, and now I’m facing real mental health challenges.
It’s not just me. We, the heads of the offices of the ministry of women’s affairs in 34 provinces, are fighting. The Taliban are trying to track us down and we’re just trying to keep ourselves safe by changing where we stay.
I ask anyone in the world who can do something: help Afghan women and get us out of this humiliation. So far I have requested help from several countries but have not received a positive response, despite the fact that they announced that they will help Afghan women who are in danger.
All I got is an email from the US state department saying they can only help those who were their employees and they are sorry.
*Names have been changed for this article.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism