Gul Bano* and Karima* are activists who led provincial branches of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in two different regions of Afghanistan. Their old offices have been taken over by the dreaded Taliban henchmen, the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. They’re hiding now fear of the men they helped put in jail for domestic violence and other abuse, many of whom are Taliban or have family ties to the militants.
I know of at least four female activists or government workers who have been killed in the past four months, and one who was kidnapped and it is unclear 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 passports.
I’ve stood up for women for the past 15 years, that’s why the Taliban are looking for me. I supported women victims of violence and I was threatened for that even under the last government. Six women in our office have been killed in recent years.
During the early days of the Taliban regime, I received so many calls, wondering where is this woman and this woman you were supporting, what is their address?
The women we supported and helped to escape situations of violence were mostly from very remote areas and villages under Taliban control, so their relatives were Taliban. And here are some of the people who were calling me and threatening me.
Many attackers had been imprisoned because of our work for women’s rights, then the Taliban took over and freed all the prisoners, and now most of the threats come from these attackers. According to their point of view, I am not even a Muslim because I defended women’s rights.
I don’t feel safe here. We change places every week and I even told my very close relatives that we had already left Afghanistan. We are in 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 heard nothing, so I am here with my husband and children, waiting and sitting. I am sure that I will not be able to stay in Afghanistan. Even if I don’t get help, I’ll be smuggled into Iran, Tajikistan or Pakistan.
I have lived in fear and shock since the fall of Kabul. We organized a demonstration of women and they tried to attack and arrest us. So now I’m in hiding and I’m still under direct threat because of my work as a women’s rights activist and [former] government employee.
I receive daily threatening calls, not only from the Taliban, but also from the relatives and family members of these women whom I have tried to defend. They tell me: “We follow you, we see you but you don’t see us.
Even under the previous government, there were several attempts on my life by these men, from which I luckily escaped unscathed
I fled my house when the Taliban took over and they seized it, looted all my belongings and took all my documents. It’s in a very good neighborhood, and now one of the most senior Taliban leaders in the province lives there, which breaks my heart.
I defended women’s rights in this house and the Taliban now live there. It hurts me, and I’m dealing with real mental health issues now.
It’s not just me. We, the heads of women’s affairs offices in 34 provinces, are in trouble. The Taliban are trying to hunt us down and we are only trying to protect ourselves by changing where we are staying.
I ask anyone in the world who can do something: help Afghan women and get us out of this humiliation. I have so far requested help from several countries but received no positive response, even though they announced that they would help Afghan women in danger.
All I got was 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.