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Still in Afghanistan: 4 stories of girls and women you need to hear

By Jessica Souza

Millions of girls and women in Afghanistan are bracing for what the future holds. In the 1990s, Taliban rule meant they were denied basic rights. They couldn’t even go to school or work. Now, they’re waiting to see what this new regime will do. Some are in hiding, some are trying to escape and some are still fighting back.

Here are four unique stories that help provide an understanding of the challenges facing the girls and women who are still in Afghanistan.

Still in Afghanistan

1. The national girls’ soccer team

They were star athletes, and now they’re in hiding. The 26 members of the national girls’ soccer team are still in Afghanistan. And they’re terrified.

Most of Afghanistan women’s team escaped on an evacuation plane to Australia in late August. But the girls’ team wasn’t able to make it out, despite international efforts to help them.

Now the girls, who are between 14 and 16 years old, and their families are hiding from the Taliban, fearing for their lives.

They're at high risk for being targeted — all because they played sports (which girls and women are forbidden to do under Taliban rule) and advocated for girls’ rights.

 

2. The (few remaining) women journalists

There are now only 39 women journalists still formally working in Kabul. There were 700 of them in 2020.

Those remaining have so far still been able to work — but only at privately-owned stations, not state-run. Shabnam Dawran, a news anchor at a state-run television channel, was not allowed into her office and was told she couldn’t work there anymore.

Many women journalists have fled out of fear for their lives.

Beheshta Arghand, a 23-year-old anchor who recently made history as the first woman to interview a Taliban leader, was one of those to recently escape.  

Zahra Joya, the founder of Rukshana Media, a platform for women journalists, also left the country, although she’s in touch with those still in Afghanistan and continues to publish their work under pseudonyms.

 

3. Three brave Afghan politicians

There are three politicians in Afghanistan who are risking it all by doing their jobs — because they’re women.

Salima Mazari, one of only three women governors in the country, has spent years organizing resistance against the Taliban in her district. Today, she’s reportedly been captured.

Zarifa Ghafari, the youngest mayor in Afghanistan and a champion for women’s rights, says she’s just waiting for the Taliban to come and kill her.

And there’s Fawzia Koofi, the first woman to be second deputy speaker of parliament. Last year, she was involved in the peace talks with the Taliban, and was shot during an assassination attempt. She’s still speaking out for women’s rights.

 

4. The founder of the Afghan Women’s Network

Mahbooba Seraj is a longtime women’s rights activist and the founder of Afghan Women’s Network, an advocacy organization. She didn’t try to evacuate because she says she’s staying in Afghanistan to continue to protect the women and girls that are in her care. She doesn’t want to hide.

Seraj has expressed her concern that the Taliban could set women’s rights back by 200 years.

 

The world is watching Afghanistan, and unlike twenty years ago when the war began, the conversation is largely focused on girls’ and women’s rights. It’s more important than ever that their stories are heard. We can’t let the voices of girls and women be silenced, in Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world.

 

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