Currents News Staff
A handful of women stand quietly but defiantly. They’re protesting the Taliban’s defacto ban on girls going to school after fifth grade. It’s a small act of great courage, but then, heavily armed Taliban fighters start to pour in.
For a moment, it seems they may have come to protect the women, but the illusion is quickly shattered when a senior Taliban rips a phone out of one woman’s hands. His men shove journalists back.
A machine gun burst sends a clear message: the protest is over. Previous protests have met a similar fate. On the streets of Khair Khanna neighborhood, the consequences of one recent demonstration can still be seen.
At almost every beauty salon, images of women’s faces have been defaced as if to erase them from public life completely. The women inside this salon are too scared to appear on camera but say the Taliban did it and then told them to put on a burqa and sit in their homes.
But this city is full of brave women who refuse to do that. Arzo Khaliqyar is an activist and mother of five who says she was forced to become a taxi driver when her husband was murdered last year. He left behind his car, but little else.
“Since the Taliban regime has come to power, it has become very difficult,” Arzo said.
While the Taliban have not officially banned women from driving, she says she has received threats.
“In some places where I see Taliban checkpoints, I am forced to go through a street or change my route,” Arzo added. “But I accepted this risk for the sake of my children.”
On the other side of town, English teacher Atifa Watanyar is working hard to give her students a better future. The past year has not been easy. In May, a horrific bombing targeted the Sayyid al Shuhada School where she teaches, taking more than 80 innocent lives. Incredibly, the school reopened. But weeks later, the Taliban swept to power and announced that for the time being – from sixth through 12th grade – only boys should come to school.
She says while she’s afraid of the Taliban, she still teaches.
“Yes, what should we do, what should we do?” asked Atifa. “It’s just the thing that we can do for our children, for our daughters, for our girls.”
Sixteen-year-old Sanam wanted to be a dentist, but now she’s not allowed to attend school.
“I feel all my dreams are crushed and buried,” said Sanam. “For I won’t be allowed to go to school and study. All my motivation is completely gone. The Taliban are the people who are the cause of the situation I am in right now. My spirit is gone, my dreams are buried.”
In a joint statement, G20 leaders said safe passage should be given to all Afghans who wish to leave. In the U.S., the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has partnered with 45 Catholic Charity agencies to provide resettlement services to Afghan refugees.