It has been more than a month since my mother and I have been deprived of our right to work — for the sole reason that we are women.
My mother, who holds a master’s degree in Pashto literature, has served as a high school teacher for more than two decades. I also have a master’s degree, in earth studies, and worked as a director in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock until the Taliban took over Kabul on Aug. 15.
As the Taliban drew closer, most of my former colleagues and friends rushed to the Kabul airport to flee the country. My mother and I, however, stayed put in our home in Kabul. We told ourselves that the Taliban would not — perhaps could not — wind back the clock to a time when Afghan women and girls had no social, political and economic rights.
The fact that the Taliban did not wantonly lynch former prominent adversaries they caught in Kabul, as they did during their first seizure of power in 1996, gave us hope that the group had learned from its past mistakes and would therefore not treat us merely as concubines this time.
On Sept. 4, I received a message on a WhatsApp group of my co-workers saying we should report to work. Previously, I had commuted to the office in a government vehicle, but now I was told that I should make it to the office on my own. I did. On time, at 8 o’clock sharp the next morning.
I was shattered when the new Taliban guards stopped me at the entrance of the ministry and ordered me to go back home. “Women should stay home until their fate is decided by the Islamic Emirate,” one of them told me. We’ve learned never to argue with Taliban gunmen because there are very serious consequences. So, I walked back, albeit with a very heavy heart, as if I had just buried a loved one.
For almost a year, I had come to the ministry every morning, six days a week, to serve Afghanistan to the best of my abilities. Now, those two gunmen did not even allow me to step into the compound, as if my presence would defile the area — a place now dedicated only to men and strictly forbidden for women. I wonder how long it will be until we see signs banning all females from public buildings.
I did not choose my gender, but I did choose a deep love for my country and a profound commitment to serve my people. I strongly believe that my gender is neither superior nor inferior to any other human being’s, regardless of how they identify.
The Taliban leaders don’t talk to us women about our needs, rights and expectations. They consult among themselves — all of them men — to decide whether we have the right to be educated and work.
We have no other meaningful ways of raising our voices inside Afghanistan — which is why I am writing here. Whether you’re in Islamabad, Doha or Washington, you can amplify our fading voices from inside Afghanistan before we’re completely silenced.
Human civilization has moved far away from the era when femininity was a curse and a mortal crime. How can you go on building your military forces in space while we, Afghan women and girls, cannot breathe on this planet? As you continue to set new standards for prosperity and well-being in your own countries, how can you ignore the fact that we are not allowed to even earn a living through work?
Over the past two decades, the United States and its allies sent billions of dollars of aid to my country, sent tens of thousands of soldiers, dropped countless bombs.
How can you now leave us to a regime that wants to turn our country into a concentration camp for women? Help us.