Editor’s note: This story is the third in 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.
A few weeks after the 9/11 attacks and subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, America’s then-first lady Laura Bush took to the airwaves to deliver a radio address normally delivered by her husband, then-President George W. Bush. The administration had repeatedly evoked the plight of Afghan women to make the case for war.
“Because of our recent military gains, in much of Afghanistan women are no longer imprisoned in their homes,” the first lady said. She went on to describe America’s mission in Afghanistan as “also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”
Now, with the last of U.S. forces gone, Afghan women are reeling from what many see as a retreat from that mission. Over the last 20 years, they have become policewomen and prosecutors. They took to YouTube and studied art. They learned to play volleyball. Now, those pursuits could make them targets.
The Fuller Project and Foreign Policy asked six women still in Afghanistan to share their thoughts about America’s withdrawal. Some acknowledged the progress that had been made over the last 20 years but were angry that the United States hadn’t done more to ensure their safety. Others are mourning the loss of their education or career. While many expressed a sense of hopelessness, one said she is looking ahead to the day the Taliban will be gone for good. Despite the risk, several women bravely insisted on using their real names; three requested complete or partial pseudonymity.
Here’s what six Afghan women had to say.
Fatima Ahmadi, 28, former policewoman from Kabul
In the early hours of Monday, 2 a.m., I woke up to the sound of celebratory firing from the Taliban. It was then that I understood the last American soldiers have left Afghanistan. It saddened me because, when Americans were here, the Taliban were trying to behave better. But now they would openly harass women, because no one is hearing women. Women are not allowed to attend school after grade six. Soon, the Taliban would stop women from working outside, and even going outside. The Taliban have not changed. They still want to remove women from society.
The Taliban need U.S. support even though they say Americans are infidels. Until a few days ago, I had hope that I might be able to return to work. But now, when I am looking at the Taliban’s treatment of women, life seems impossible for women. I have used social media and posted my pictures. Now, my picture is on the internet, and I am frightened that the Taliban might kill me as infidel. Now that the U.S. left, I am very scared. I think the Taliban might stone me to death—if not because of working as policewoman, then as a woman whose picture is on social media.
As a policewoman, I have no hope of returning to work. I know it is impossible. Now, our life is in danger because of the work we have done before. The United States should help policewomen, because it encouraged us to join the police. But now that our life is in danger, the United States should have helped us. If the Taliban kill me, what would happen to my two children? That is what scared me the most. They don’t have anyone to take care of them.
Thousands of policewomen like me are in danger right now. Some of them have a husband and can afford to stay home and hide, but what will happen to single mothers who were policewomen? I am so scared. Someone should hear our voice. While I am alive, I want to speak out about the situation of policewomen. What we are living is a gradual death.
Asiya Rahimi, 22, YouTuber
When the United States came to Afghanistan, they claimed to improve women’s rights and fight terrorism. However, after 20 years, the Americans left us where they started. It is true that in the past 20 years, women had an opportunity for education and work. But now we have returned to 20 years ago. We don’t have rights to education, work, and even to go out without a male chaperone. I think the United States used Afghan people as a tool to reach its objectives, and now they turned their back on us. I hate American politicians. I think they are responsible for our misery.
Kobra (last name withheld), 23, art student at Kabul University
The United States destroyed our life, our future. They could have departed more responsibly and prepared. Now, our female professors are not allowed to work. The Taliban ordered separate classrooms for men and women at the university level. Where should we find enough women to teach us? Do you know what that means? It means women cannot attend university. This is the legacy the United States left for us.
Anonymous, 32, former anti-corruption prosecutor, Attorney General’s Office of Afghanistan
For the Taliban, women are not human. They only recognize men as human and treat women as possession of men. So, how can we expect the Taliban to recognize women’s rights? They vaguely talk about women’s rights based on sharia, but we are not sure what is their definition of sharia.
We never thought the international force will leave so quickly the way they did. They abandoned Afghanistan. Now, we are left alone with the fundamentalist group that the Western countries couldn’t defeat in 20 years. The Taliban’s treatment of women is no secret to the international community. But they left us to the Taliban.
It was painful for me. I never thought they would abandon us like this. When the U.S. military left Bagram base while Afghan government was still in power, they destroyed their camps and equipment. I saw a picture that broke my heart. It showed a U.S. soldier destroying the camps. That sent a message to us: “We are leaving. Everything is over. We will never return, no matter what happens to Afghans.” But I believe an oppressive regime like the Taliban will not last forever. I am looking forward to the day the Taliban are gone and I can restart working toward my dreams.
Zahra Hussaini, 26, women’s rights activist
The U.S. withdrawal that was completed on Aug. 31 was a cruelty done to Afghan women. The political game the United States and other Western countries played in Afghanistan sank Afghan people into misery.
When the United States came to Afghanistan, they did some things—like including women in society. In the past 20 years, we had some change, especially that women have reached some position in politics, sports, technology, health, art, security, and all other aspects of life. We have fought for our rights, and we sacrificed to get where we were. Many women have lost their life for gender equality, for women to have an opportunity for a more equal society.
We know that the Taliban are a threat to Afghan people, particularly for women. The Taliban do not want women to be in society, to work or participate in all other aspects of social life.
But the U.S. withdrawal means we returned to 20 years ago. Now, women are marginalized. They are sent back home. Women can no longer work. They cannot be a singer. They cannot be an actress. They cannot participate in sports. Women cannot advocate for themselves. It is very sad for women who are left behind. It is very painful to return back to 20 years ago and live like our mothers and grandmothers under the Taliban. It is sad. Women have lost their hope. Their dreams are turned to a nightmare. We can no longer live as an active part of our society.
Anonymous, 16, high school student who had been training to play volleyball for Afghanistan’s national women’s team
When the United States left, it did not care about us Afghan women and girls. But when they came, they promised to change our situation. Now, they left us worse than before. The Americans showed us some forms of freedom but didn’t help us to free ourselves. They left us in our cage. Now, I cannot live the life I wanted.