‘I am very afraid’: Women on the entrance strains of a brand new Afghanistan

This was not the story we got down to inform.

We had been investigating the killings of girls in Afghanistan for the reason that United States signed a peace take care of the Taliban in February 2020.

Such killings have been rising, with file numbers documented by the United Nations: 219 ladies killed within the first six months of this 12 months, in contrast with 138 throughout the identical interval in 2020.

But it appeared only a few individuals had been held accountable for these murders.

In July, we spent two weeks within the Afghan capital, Kabul, studying concerning the lives of those that had been killed, speaking to ladies living in fear and attempting to get solutions from the authorities.

But as we have been placing our story collectively, the nation unravelled, the Afghan president fled, and the Taliban took over the presidential palace.

A girl together with her granddaughter at Chahari Qambar IDP camp in Kabul in 2015 [File: Sat Nandlall/Al Jazeera]

The messages from pals began coming in on the morning of Sunday, August 15.

“The Taliban have taken over our neighbourhood.”

“They are in our mosque, telling us to wear the hijab if we go out.”

“I am at home. I can hear gunfire. We just pray.”

Their desperation was palpable. Meanwhile, Taliban leaders have been formally assuring the world that there can be a peaceable transition.

Women in control of their destinies

I first got here to know Afghanistan in 2006, embedding with the Canadian forces in Kandahar 5 years after the deployment of NATO troops there. I at all times needed to understand how the ladies have been doing, for the reason that warfare had been bought to us with the shiny promise of “liberating” them from the Taliban’s brutal rule.

Over the years, I witnessed tentative ladies I met rising into assertive younger ladies, and assertive younger ladies maturing into assured professionals – ladies who knew that they had management over their very own future.

I visited colleges and reported on the obstacles that have been nonetheless in place for women, and the way they might overcome them. I watched feminine athletes play soccer in a stadium the Taliban as soon as used to execute ladies for “moral crimes”.

I met unbelievable ladies who I’m proud to now name my pals; politicians pushing for legal guidelines to higher defend different ladies, cops who doubled as group leaders, and journalists who by no means stopped holding their authorities to account.

Girls at a faculty in Kabul in 2013 [File: Mellissa Fung/Al Jazeera]

For those that imagine that 20 years and billions of {dollars} have been wasted after the Taliban took again energy final week, do not forget that a technology of girls was educated and got here of age believing they have been free to pursue their goals.

But then, they began being killed. More than 70 ladies, bombed on their means home from college in Kabul in May 2021. Two judges shot in Kabul in January 2021. A journalist shot in Jalalabad on her technique to work in December 2020. The listing simply stored rising. And there have been few experiences of investigations and arrests of these accountable.

This was the story we had got down to inform.

But not lengthy after we completed filming and left Kabul final month, the Taliban swept throughout the nation.

Provinces fell with little resistance. The Taliban took main cities: Herat, with its stunning blue mosque; Kandahar, the birthplace of the group; and Mazar-i-Sharif, the one-time stronghold of the anti-Taliban navy coalition, the Northern Alliance. And immediately, they have been at Kabul’s doorstep. They made it look shockingly straightforward.

The day the Taliban took Kabul, {a photograph} was broadly shared of a person portray over photos of girls that adorned costume outlets within the metropolis – actually wiping them away. I keep in mind driving previous the images final month and smiling on the faces of gorgeous Afghan ladies modelling marriage ceremony clothes. I believed the Taliban might by no means subdue ladies once more.

The picture of these faces being painted over broke me; they have been being erased once more. Now I fear that the progress ladies have labored so arduous to achieve over the past 20 years is also simply wiped away.

‘Pray for us’

The Taliban now says it can govern inclusively, inviting ladies to affix its authorities, and pledging that it will probably proceed to be a part of the workforce so long as it’s “in accordance with Sharia law”.

But many Afghan ladies will not be satisfied. They keep in mind the Taliban which subjected ladies to public beatings, which pressured them to put on burqas, and which refused to allow them to go to highschool.

So the messages preserve coming.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.”

“Pray for us.”

“I am very afraid.”

Women are pictured on a road in Kabul in 2007 [File: Mellissa Fung /Al Jazeera]

It is a particular sort of fear when ladies converse to me concerning the Taliban. It is the fear of going again to a darkish time of subjugation and imprisonment. The fear of shedding management over one’s personal future. The fear of not with the ability to dream.

Most of the ladies I do know are in hiding, afraid that the Taliban will discover them, asking whether or not I can assist them depart the nation. Some have already left, not understanding if they’ll ever return.

For those that stay, the sense of desperation is rising amongst sturdy ladies who now really feel they’re in grave hazard.

A girl who as soon as advised me she would by no means depart Afghanistan despatched me this electronic mail: “I’m so scared about what might happen. I don’t want my daughter to grow up here. The situation is getting worse.”

My coronary heart is damaged for all of them, for all the things they stand to lose – their houses, their goals, their future.

And my coronary heart is damaged for the nation I’ve come to like. When I left Kabul final month, I feared I might not have the ability to return to the identical place. Now I do know it can by no means be the identical.

This was the story I by no means needed to inform.

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