‘The Taliban no longer wanted to kill me. Now they wanted to marry me’ | Women’s rights and gender equality

TOn the day the Taliban entered my city last August, I received renewed threats from Taliban commanders seeking to punish me for my work as a news reporter. I was forced to leave my home that day, amid the loud explosions of an ongoing battle, hiding under a burqa and praying to survive the journey.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this trip would continue for the next year.

Every few weeks I moved from province to province, sometimes living in the heart of cities, sometimes hiding in remote villages. For the first few days I stayed at my uncle’s house in Sari Pul province, but when the local Taliban heard that he had a fugitive shelter, we had to leave in the middle of the night.

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I went to the town of Mazar-i-Sharif in Balkh and then took the road to Kabul, passing through the provinces of Samangan, Baghlan and Parwan. We were stopped at checkpoints in every province, and each time my heart pounded in my chest. Luckily I was under a chadari [the full Afghan burqa] and passed checkpoints undetected.

In Kabul the sky had changed; there was fear and apprehension, in addition to celebrations, as Taliban fighters from all over the country gathered in the capital. With the help of some friends, I was transferred to a hiding place, where I spent the next three months trying to find ways to get out of the country, but rarely left the compound where I was hiding. The Taliban launched random roundups in the area, looking for fugitives like me.

Somehow our compound evaded suspicion, but as the raids increased, I knew I would have to leave Kabul soon.

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In December 2021 I heard the news that my cousin had been killed by the Taliban. He was a police officer and often clashed with the Taliban in the years of conflict. Like me, he had been hiding for months, looking for a way out of the country, but he was caught and killed. I collapsed, not only in grief at his loss, but in unbelievable pain at what my life had become.

I decided to go back to my county, but didn’t go home because I didn’t want to risk my family’s life. I hid in another relative’s house, but being so close to my family again made me homesick. I longed for my mother’s embrace; I hadn’t seen her in months.

One day I met my mother in a busy marketplace. We hugged tightly and I cried, but she gave me strength. I knew I couldn’t give up now.

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In the months that followed, I began weaving carpets to help support myself and my family. Since the Taliban takeover, we had not only lost income, but my life in exile also cost my parents, who had already sacrificed so much to raise me and now had to support me. It was hard work and I got rashes and sores on my hands, but it helped my family and distracted me from the threats I still received.

Then the Taliban’s threats changed. They didn’t want to kill me anymore. They wanted me to marry one of their commanders. They contacted my parents and the elders of the community and pressured them to marry me off.

I couldn’t believe it was happening to me now. In the past I have told stories about the Taliban who imposed forced marriages on young girls. Now I was one of the women I reported on last year.

When I refused, they sent me photos of AK-47s and pistols threatening to kidnap me and kill my parents. I blocked their numbers and deleted WhatsApp but they still found ways to send me threats. I ended up taking my SIM card out and breaking it into pieces. I was terrified of what they would do to me, or worse, my family.

So in July, with the help of friends, I made another attempt to leave the country. First I moved to Mazar-i-Sharif with my father’s help, and then we took the road back to Kabul. I had medical certificates and every time we were stopped we said I was going to Kabul for treatment. I was nervous the whole trip because the Taliban were more ruthless than before.

Finally we reached Kabul where I met other women like me. Together, under the pretense of seeking medical attention, we were able to board a flight to a neighboring country.

I’m a little safer now, but not out of danger. I hardly sleep because I fear for my family, who are still in Afghanistan. They’re already ashamed that I ran away. A young unmarried daughter who leaves alone is considered very dishonorable in Afghan culture.

But I am lucky with the support I have received from my parents, at great personal risk. They always prioritized my passion, my happiness and now my safety and future. Contrary to popular belief, many Afghan fathers, like mine, would rather face social disgrace and threats than deny their daughters a chance for a better future.

I call on our international allies to empower such Afghan families, especially the women. We have worked so hard to achieve values ​​of equality and freedom and have lost the most in the past year. But we still resist and we seek allies to support us and amplify our voices.

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