This week marks a sombre anniversary: the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.
On this Afghan Independence Day, as an Afghan woman, born and raised in France, far removed from my family’s and community’s ancestral homeland, I want to share some thoughts.
In the years before the fall of Afghanistan, a feeling of change was palpable. Cities were expanding, rebuilding, and modernising. Young Afghan women and men, much like myself, who were born or had grown up abroad, were returning to their homeland as adults to contribute to fields like media, journalism, medicine, research, the arts. More importantly, women were gradually retaking their rightful place in public spaces, in politics, universities, and various leadership roles – the economy was growing thanks to them.
I distinctly remember the grin that crept onto my face as I read the 2014 stats revealing that the Afghan parliament was composed of more women (27,7%) than the French one (26,2%). It was satisfying to see Afghanistan show France up, and amusing to see the reaction of the French media on this, a country that has always been strongly orientalist, always stood behind the argument of the ‘Afghan Women’s Liberation’ without actually including Afghan women in decision-making processes, and where islamophobia was growing at a record speed.
I have never known an Afghanistan not riddled with violence and insecurity. Yes, at the end of the 2010s, there were still many, many challenges, ongoing injustices, and insecurity was still extremely high. But, you could feel a steady shift. I remember feeling such hope. It felt like we were at the cusp of change, maybe a new era, getting us closer to peace and stability after 40 years of war. All of this, thanks to the Afghan people and civil societies’ resilience and constant fight for peace and stability.
In only two years, the Taliban have managed to dismantle everything. It’s a profound sense of loss. An entire generation of women who had accessed education, universities, embarked on careers had it all snatched away from them. Girls’ futures are stolen from them. Marginalised communities like the Hazara community are violently targeted. All of this is because of small, insignificant men, their obsession with power, and their fear of seeing women succeed, of their presence in public spaces and of their participation in society.
Afghan people have grown and aged with the weight of war on their shoulders and on their families’ faces, with constant reports of violence and death happening in the country, of tales of dangerous migration pathways – we are all particularly resilient to bad news. My experience is not unique and though it is riddled with privilege, I have also very early on learned the skill of compartmentalising my anger, worries and frustrations on the subject. But after the fall of Afghanistan, I felt numb. This was a waste of such immeasurable potential.
But, since August 2021, we have witnessed the relentless dedication and resilience of civil society organisations, of the Afghan people, and particularly, of Afghan women. We watched unarmed Afghan women protesting in the streets of Afghanistan, surrounded by violent, impatient, armed men.
In my role at the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, I’ve had the privilege of closely monitoring our project managers. And seeing the remarkable efforts of Sarah Farhatiar, our junior project manager spearheading our work on Afghanistan, alongside our esteemed Steering Committee members, has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. Our Steering Committee members are in and out of Afghanistan, fighting, like many Afghan (women) activists on numerous fronts and making substantial changes for countless individuals. Seeing all these incredible Afghan women fight, risk their lives, and catalyze change in this impossible situation, has been truly motivating.
Afghan women are at the forefront of resistance, as they have always been.
If we continue to support local initiatives and experts in Afghanistan and abroad, if we continue to celebrate Afghan music, dances, poetry, and art, if we continue to highlight and celebrate the voices of marginalised groups, and if we finally actually listen to Afghan Women, we will see change.
And again, I am starting to feel hopeful.
This article was written by:
Ariane Alam is our Communications Manager