Editor’s note: This story was produced in partnership with Rukhshana Media and is part of The Fuller Project’s ongoing series, “Ending America’s Forever War: What is next for Afghan women?”, documenting what the end of America’s longest war on foreign soil means for the women who have lived through it. Follow The Fuller Project’s continuing coverage here.
Prior to the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, besides being a mother and wife, I was coaching the women’s team at the Karate Federation and working as a teacher at a public school in Kabul. At school, I taught karate to female students and religious subjects to male students.
I had come to the realization that in order to improve the situation of women, they need to be provided with a job and income. Therefore, three years ago, with my personal savings from my role as a teacher, I opened a sewing workshop. With that, I provided jobs for 17 women who had lost their husbands in the war. Before the Taliban came, my days started at four in the morning, when I would prepare breakfast for my husband and children and then I would go to school to teach.
At the school, there was a sports club where female students and some of my colleagues came to practice. We practiced at the karate club until 7:30 in the morning, and at 8 a.m. I would go to class. Around noon, I would go to my sewing business, as soon as I left the school. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, instead of the sewing shop, I went to the Karate Federation.
My mother, who has always supported me, took care of my children. Every morning she took them to kindergarten and brought them home every afternoon. My husband also had a freelance job. I was satisfied with my life, I had a decent income, and I worked in the areas that I was passionate about. But since the Taliban took over the country, I have lost almost everything. Since then, I have not earned even 10 Afghanis.
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When the Taliban announced that male students and male teachers could return to schools, but did not say anything about female students and teachers, one of my colleagues called me and said, “We can no longer go to school. How are we supposed to feed our children?”
Although I tried to give some hope to my colleague, saying “God is great. We will somehow find bread,” her question stuck in my mind. I thought about the fact that we could hardly make it to next month. Now that we won’t have any income, what are we going to do?
This problem wasn’t only my problem. All women who were their families’ breadwinners until August 15th faced the same issue. In less than 24 hours, we all lost not only our professional and social status, but practically our only way of livelihood.
With a number of friends and colleagues, we talked and decided that waiting and doing nothing is not the answer. We decided to take to the streets to demand our rights.
‘We decided to protest’
One day we purchased placards to write our slogans on. Consulting with others, we also drafted a resolution, emphasizing on our rights to study and work. We decided to hold the protest on Friday, September 3rd, at 9 a.m.
I ate my breakfast in such a hurry that day and asked my husband to take me to Faware Aab square. (The women had decided to go to the venue individually so no one could stop us.) When I reached the venue, other women were slowly gathering. When we reached 22 people, we marched from Faware Aab towards the presidential palace. As we approached the palace, the Taliban came and began beating the journalists and some of the protesters.
One of our colleagues was reporting live on Facebook when a Taliban soldier attacked. I went to help, but the same Taliban soldier hit me on the shoulder with his Kalashnikov and tore the placard in my hand that said, “The elimination of women is the elimination of humanity.”
When our demonstration turned violent, we decided to go home. My husband took me home. My shoulder was hurting a lot, but I did not dare to see a doctor for fear of the Taliban.
The next day, someone knocked on our gate. My husband wasn’t home, so I asked from behind the gate, “Who is it?” Someone on the other side asked for bread, saying he was a traveler. I was scared so I didn’t open the gate, but I slid 50 Afs underneath and told him to buy bread for himself from the bakery across the street.
I went inside and looked out from the second-floor window and saw that the person behind the gate was a Taliban soldier, hiding his Kalashnikov behind his scarf.
‘We were stopped at the checkpoint’
I was terrified, and when my husband returned home, I told him the whole story. We decided that we should leave Afghanistan. My husband obtained a road ticket to Kandahar, so we could enter Pakistan by land via the Spin Boldak border. I did not own any long dresses, so I had to get one.
We arrived in Kandahar around 2 a.m., and from there we moved towards the Spin Boldak border. On the way we reached a Taliban checkpoint. I had covered my face, but they realized that we are Hazaras* from my husband’s appearance. “They are Hazaras. Hazaras are not permitted to go this way,” one of the Taliban gunmen who stopped the car said in Pashto. He then ordered us out of the car.
We went back and found another driver who with more money was supposed to ensure our safe passage from the Taliban’s checkpoint. The driver handed a face mask and a scarf to my husband and asked him to cover his head and face as much as possible.
This time, when the Taliban soldiers couldn’t see my husband’s face properly, they asked him a question in Pashto. Since my husband did not know enough Pashto to answer them, they ordered us away again. The driver said that we were in the wrong place and that he would turn back around, but he sped up and never turned back.
Near the border, we encountered another Taliban checkpoint. There, they pulled us out of the car, saying “Hazaras are not permitted to pass.”
We waited for long hours in the car because we knew if we went back home, there would be no way to reach the border again. My daughter had to use the toilet, but the Taliban wouldn’t allow that. I requested the driver to ask the Taliban to allow us to use the toilet, but the Taliban members said we had to relieve ourselves on the ground next to the car.
We got in another car, but, again we were stopped at the Taliban checkpoint, where my husband was taken inside. My six-year-old daughter began sobbing softly. When I asked why she was crying, she said, “My father was taken away by bad people.”
Fortunately, after 15 minutes, my husband returned, and they finally let us cross the border. Currently, we are living in Pakistan, but I do not have any source of income, and I do not know what the future will hold.
*The Hazaras are an ethnic minority in Afghanistan that has been subjected to violence, oppression and discrimination, including massacres by the Taliban in the 1990s.
Fatima Etemadi, 30, is a karate instructor, teacher and trainer. Translation by Sahar Fetrat.