On the threshold of the pivotal United Nations conference concerning Afghanistan, slated to unfold in Doha, a profound dialogue was held by Ronak Faraji with Parwana Ibrahim Khail, a representative of the Afghan women’s protest movement. This critical discourse delved into the lived realities and unyielding resistance of women under the oppressive regime of the Taliban. Parwana Ibrahim Khail shared her harrowing ordeal, having endured incarceration and brutal torture at the hands of the Taliban for a duration of thirty days. The interview, conducted in Persian, has been disseminated by RadioZamaneh, a Persian media outlet headquartered in Amsterdam.

Parwana Ibrahim Khail is a journalism graduate from Rana University in Kabul and a well-known protester of the Afghan Women’s Movement. Parwana has been active for years in the field of violence prevention against women and defending women’s rights in Afghanistan.

She was abducted by the Taliban during a protest in front of Kabul University on January 16, 2022. The Taliban held and tortured Parwana in prison for about a month and eventually sentenced her to stoning.

These days, on the eve of the United Nations meeting and representatives of countries in Doha, Qatar, about Afghanistan, we are witnessing many activities, statements, and letters from women’s rights activists and protesters against the Taliban government and laws to the United Nations, because the first round of this meeting aimed at reaching an engagement of the international community with the Taliban was held without the presence of Taliban opposition groups and behind closed doors.

Amnesty International previously stated that the Doha meeting should end the impunity of the Taliban. A group of Taliban opponents, including Tamana Zaryab Paryani, a women’s rights activist, also stated in response to the Doha meeting that this gathering would essentially support the Taliban, and even the women invited to represent Afghan women at this meeting would somehow support the Taliban.

The Doha meeting became an opportunity for me to sit down with Parwana Ibrahim Khail and ask her to talk about her experience in Taliban prison and the conditions she endured as a women’s rights activist and protester.

Parwana recounts the difficult days when, in her view, her homeland was occupied, and she believes that in such circumstances, she was not a prisoner but a captive:

For someone who criticizes a group constantly and feels that their homeland has been occupied, that place was not a prison, it was where I had become a captive; a captive of a group that had occupied my homeland. I spent difficult days alone in a solitary cell; from physical and psychological torture to hearing the screams of strangers being punished and tortured.

Parwana says that in the Taliban prison, at night when she wanted to sleep, the sounds of strange men and Taliban entering her cell and cursing at her prevented her from sleeping:

In the mornings, what was interesting was that those who tortured people were the first ones to wake up and would say ‘wake up and pray.’ In that cell where I was captive, there were blood-stained walls, belonging to people who had been beaten by the Taliban.

Parwana narrates that in prison, she could also hear the sounds of babies and children, and even teenagers who were being trained by the Taliban for suicide operations. She adds that these tough days made her stronger, and her life story has become like those who come back to life after death.

From Prison to Prison

The Taliban condemned Parwana Ibrahim Khail to stoning on the charge of converting to Christianity, a sentence the Taliban have executed against women multiple times: “They issued a stoning sentence against me, saying that I was a Christian and should reconvert to Islam, and they tortured me until I recited the Shahada again, according to the Taliban, becoming Muslim once more.”

I asked her about her life after being released from Taliban captivity. She said that upon her release from the Taliban prison, she was transferred to another prison: the prison of her home.

After being freed from the Taliban, Parwana was confined to her house for 7 months, not daring to go outside lest Taliban forces harm her and her family. She was arrested along with her young niece and nephew, who still cry out of fear whenever they hear the Taliban’s name, saying, “The Taliban might take our aunt and imprison her.”

I was in a home prison, waiting for the Taliban to attack our house and kill me. Calls came from various numbers to my family members, warning us that they were Taliban members wanting to see Parwana. Even the day after I was released from prison and the media reported it, one of the Taliban’s affiliates called my private number, which nobody had, saying they were Taliban and wanted to meet with me, and I was among those who wished death for the Taliban leader. I told them I wouldn’t allow you to schedule a meeting with me when I had been released from your Ministry of Interior. Who are you to interrogate me again?

Parwana hung up the phone, but several more calls followed. The Taliban forces wanted to see her: “Later, I found out they had come to the house I was living in to assassinate me, and I escaped from the house wearing a chador, moving from house to house for more than a week, with nobody opening their gates to me, fearing that it might result in their daughters being imprisoned or the Taliban attacking again.”

Parwana says even after she was forced to flee Afghanistan, the Taliban continued to call her, threatening her with death. The Taliban intend to eliminate women from society on various pretexts and resort to violence to silence women’s voices.

Parwana refers to the condition of women in Afghanistan before the Taliban, who were progressing, had the right to education, worked in major government sectors, were ministers, and were gaining awareness about their rights. She says all the protests and cries of Afghan women today, after the Taliban’s occupation, stem from the rights and freedoms they had acquired during the republic era.

The latest report published by the “Women, Peace, and Security” (WPS) index this year shows that Afghan women are in the worst condition among 177 countries worldwide; a condition that has plunged the lives of millions into despair since the Taliban came to power. The United Nations had previously mentioned that about 1.1 million teenage girls have been banned from attending school, and for the past 2 months to date, all schools, educational centers, universities, and women’s sections of offices in Afghanistan have been closed.

The marginalization and confinement of women in Afghanistan does not stop at educational and government institutions. The Taliban have also ordered the closure of women’s beauty salons and increasingly enforce restrictive laws aimed at limiting and denying the identity and gender of women; discriminatory restrictions that violate human rights guarantees contained in various international treaties to which Afghanistan is a party. This includes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to Parwana, the rise to power of the Taliban has turned a dark and bitter page in the history of Afghan women:

In the current century, there is no country where women are tortured, imprisoned, or even killed simply because they want to study, work, and live a human life. But under Taliban rule, women no longer have control over their own attire, and the Taliban, under the guise of ‘mandatory hijab’ or the ‘Taliban’s preferred hijab,’ are erasing women from society. Women who spent 20 years studying, working, and being the breadwinners of their households have lost everything under Taliban rule. The Taliban have changed women’s lives in such a way that it’s as if they are war booty obtained during the occupation of Afghanistan.

Afghan women’s protest against the Doha meeting: The Taliban deserve trial, not negotiation.

To Make Our Hearts Beat Again

Afghan women did not retreat in the face of the violation of their rights by the Taliban and launched various movements and protest gatherings. Parwana believes that the greatest step Afghan women can take against the Taliban is these women’s protest gatherings, which, although leading to the arrest and torture of women, challenge the Taliban and bring about change in the status of Afghan women, even if these changes do not occur immediately.

We took a significant risk in our activities to change the situation of women in Afghanistan.

She continues: “On August 15, 2021, the day the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, I was speaking at a press conference in the Continental Hotel in Kabul with a letter titled ‘No to the Taliban’ and ‘The Doha Office Should Be Closed’ to talk about the situation of women, forced marriages of young girls, and issues that had occurred in that province at the time. At that moment, it was announced that the Taliban had reached Kabul. I did not think I would be able to leave there alive; I was so terrified that I could not walk anymore.

On nights before going to protests, I tried to talk more with my loved ones, especially my mother, in case I would not return home alive the next day. This danger is still with us because there might be Taliban supporters in Europe who want to eliminate us.

Parwana says, “To make our hearts beat again, we must continue the struggle because we have a homeland where our hearts beat, and now it has stopped beating, and we should not wait for the situation to get better; we must take action ourselves.”

The United Nations and Human Rights Watch have supported the protesting Afghan women in various statements, saying, “They have defended their rights to social and financial independence and risked their lives for a better future for all people in Afghanistan.”

But Parwana says these statements are not enough; Afghan women are experiencing the worst days in history, and any coexistence and silence in the face of Taliban crimes are meaningful because the international community and countries that support democracy and the United Nations have not met the demands of Afghan women against the Taliban:

How can they only issue a statement to a group that has occupied Afghanistan, kills its men, considers its women as war booty, and subjects them to torture and rape? They should introduce the leaders of this group to international trial and not invite them to international meetings. They should not seek to negotiate with the Taliban. The vast amounts of money they send are a form of support for the Taliban, and continuing this situation makes them complicit in human rights violations.

International communities must see the current situation in Afghanistan, support its people, and use their jurisdiction without borders to investigate and prosecute the crimes of the Taliban against women and children within the framework of international laws, publish a comprehensive report on the situation, and support women facing gender-based violence, as Parwana mentioned, many girls are forced into early marriages.

The United Nations is hosting a meeting on February 18 and 19 (29 and 30 Bahman) with the presence of special representatives of countries and international organizations in Doha, Qatar. This meeting will consider options for responding to gender-based violence – a form of crime against humanity – as well as other related crimes against humanity in Afghanistan.

However, according to official statements, former political leaders of Afghanistan within the framework of the Supreme Council of Resistance for the Salvation of Afghanistan, as well as women activists in Afghanistan, have been specified as not being invited to participate in this meeting. This is while the Taliban have claimed that their representatives have been invited to the meeting.

Parwana says if this year’s meeting also lacks the presence of Taliban opposition groups and protesting Afghan women, then it is merely a show for lobbying and legitimizing the Taliban:

On one hand, thinking about the situation in Afghanistan has a positive aspect. But on the other hand, when they want to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table, it means trampling all human rights laws. Inviting a terrorist and occupying group to hear a false address from Afghanistan while the Taliban are never and cannot represent the people of Afghanistan. They might be able to lead a minority that they represent, but they can never represent the people of Afghanistan who have been victims in every Taliban attack over these 20 years. International organizations should listen to the voices of protesting women who have stood against prison, whipping, and torture by the Taliban in the worst ways over these 2 years, and the voices of men who are still fighting in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan.

Recently, a video was published on social media and active Afghan media from a newly established group of Afghan women, named “The Women’s Freedom Window Movement,” announcing their presence on the eve of the UN meeting on Afghanistan in Doha. Highlighting the situation of people, especially women under Taliban rule, they called on the international community to recognize this group as an official entity and support it. This group also demanded the presence of genuine female representatives at the Doha meeting.

On the other hand, Afghan women activists sent a letter to the United Nations, referring to the presence of Afghan women at this meeting. A part of the letter states: “If international organizations ignore this matter, not only will the meeting’s outcomes be unacceptable and ineffective for the people of Afghanistan, but it will also lead to the worsening of human rights and women’s rights situations.”

The UN is complicit with the Taliban in gender apartheid

The Coalition of Afghan Women’s Protest Movements has accused the United Nations of complicity with the Taliban in gender apartheid, stating that the organization has repeatedly complied with the oppressive edicts of the Taliban.

This coalition stated that the United Nations’ decision to continue operations in Afghanistan under conditions where the Taliban prevent women from working questions the organization’s commitment to human rights values and meaningful participation of women.

On May 2023, the Coalition of Women’s Protest Movements released a statement saying that the Taliban’s ban on women working in UN offices “was a completely predictable move” and gender apartheid is evident in more than 40 decrees issued by this group to restrict women’s rights.

According to this declaration, the United Nations’ decision to comply with the oppressive orders of the Taliban under the pretext of distributing humanitarian aid has emboldened the Taliban to continue their attacks against women’s rights with “impunity and without punishment.”

They have written: “It is time for these organizations to suspend their activities in Afghanistan and refrain from any unconditional engagement with the Taliban until women are allowed to work, using all tools and leverages to hold the Taliban accountable for human rights violations.”

The Coalition of Women’s Protest Movements believes that the situation in Afghanistan is not just a humanitarian disaster but a human rights crisis. This coalition has called on the international community to prioritize women’s rights and demonstrate their commitment in practice.

The declaration of this coalition states: “The lack of a firm stance by the international community, especially the United Nations, is an implicit endorsement of the Taliban’s gender apartheid and an insult to the human dignity of Afghan women.”

The United Nations Security Council unanimously recently adopted a resolution urging the Taliban ruling Afghanistan to immediately lift severe and increasing educational and employment restrictions as well as restrictions in public spaces and stadiums against women.

The draft of this resolution was prepared by the United Arab Emirates and Japan and was adopted on Thursday 28 April, with 15 votes in favor and none against. The agreement of the United States, Russia, and China on this resolution at a time when there are severe international differences over the war in Ukraine is a sign of widespread global concern about the actions of the Taliban.

This resolution has described the ban on women’s work as “unprecedented” in the history of the United Nations and “expresses deep concern about the increasing disrespect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls in Afghanistan by the Taliban” and emphasizes the “essential role” of women in Afghanistan.

Based on this resolution, the ban on women working in UN offices “weakens human rights and humanitarian principles” and will also have a “severe negative impact” on the United Nations’ humanitarian operations across Afghanistan.

The resolution states that Afghan women and girls must have full, equal, meaningful, and safe participation in all sectors of society.

The resolution also emphasizes that until the ban on women’s work is lifted, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) office will not be able to perform its humanitarian duties.

The Security Council has called on the Taliban to immediately restore women’s access to education, work, freedom of movement, and equal participation in public life, and has asked other UN member countries to use their influence to promote the “immediate restoration” of the Taliban’s policies and practices towards women and girls.

My journey in creating this space was deeply inspired by James Baldwin’s powerful work, “The Fire Next Time”. Like Baldwin, who eloquently addressed themes of identity, race, and the human condition, this blog aims to be a beacon for open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable discussions on similar issues.

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