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Afghan activist who fled country says ‘from anywhere we can support women’

People waving Afghan flags attend a protest against Taliban persecution of women on Dublins O’Connell Street organized by the Afghan Union of Ireland. Picture date: Sunday September 19, 2021.
People waving Afghan flags attend a protest against Taliban persecution of women on Dublins O’Connell Street organized by the Afghan Union of Ireland. Picture date: Sunday September 19, 2021.

An Afghan women’s rights campaigner who was forced to flee the country said “from anywhere we can support women” and hopes to be able to return one day to help.

Women’s rights have been set back in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, with women increasingly prevented from being involved in public life and education.

Hosai, 30, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, fled her country with the help of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (Cafod), the official aid agency for the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

Taliban Resurgence in Afghanistan
A woman attends a protest against Taliban persecution of women on Dublin’s O’Connell Street (Niall Carson/PA)

Now living in Germany, Hosai, who is a women’s rights campaigner, said that despite being in another country she hopes to help Afghan women protect their “basic rights”.

“Being a women’s activist within the new context is really difficult in Afghanistan,” Hosai told the PA news agency.

“But before that, we were around to support women and to raise the women’s voices over conferences, meetings, gathering advocacy for women’s rights, and for their inclusion in government in all aspects in the society.

“Most of the women activists and women’s rights activists, they’re out of the country at the moment. It’s really difficult, but still, for me… from anywhere we can support women.

“I really hope the situation gets better and women can have their basic rights in Afghanistan, and I really hope that I could be one of the (people) to help them in achieving their basic things in their life.”

Initially, Taliban officials suggested they would allow women to continue to work and would not stop girls from continuing their education.

Since then they have banned girls from attending school from seventh grade, as well as imposing all-covering dresses where only the eyes are visible – women’s access to work has also been restricted.

Niamh Furey is Cafod’s programme officer for Afghanistan in the UK, Cafod is working to provide humanitarian help, including supporting women, in the country.

“There are various cases that we know of, and have heard of from colleagues and the organisations that we work with, of women who have been outright told that they need to leave their job,” Ms Furey told PA.

“And these are women, the examples that I’m speaking of, women with very high-level experience, professionals with multiple degrees.

“And in some cases we’ve heard of women actually being asked to nominate a male family member to take over their duties.”

Hosai said it is important to create job opportunities for women, especially those who are widowed.

“They’re really in a severe situation to feed their family and children,” she said.

“So creating some job opportunities for them to be involved and to feed their family, which is the first priority for most Afghan women at the moment.”

A report by Amnesty International said the Taliban have also decimated protections for those suffering domestic violence, detained women and girls for minor violations and contributed to a surge in child marriages.

The report also documented torture and abuse of women arrested by the Taliban for protesting against the restrictions.

“Taken together, these policies form a system of repression that discriminates against women and girls in almost every aspect of their lives,” the report said.

“This suffocating crackdown against Afghanistan’s female population is increasing day by day.”

On leaving Afghanistan, Hosai said she “left two mothers” when she evacuated: her birth mother and her country.

However, one year since the Taliban’s takeover, she hopes that one day she will be able to return and support her countrywomen.

“I can’t believe how quickly a year has passed,” she said.

“The situation was not good for all Afghans in Afghanistan, especially for women – after two decades, all progress, all improvement and everything vanished overnight.

“To be honest, I think that it’s all a nightmare and maybe tomorrow things will be changed or things will be different.

“We hope for better days for Afghanistan.

“And I hope one day I can go and support the Afghan women and to be in my country and to serve for them.”