A year on from the Taliban takeover, the UK must step up to protect Afghan women
As a woman belonging to a conservative family in Afghanistan, getting the opportunity to work in the presidential palace was a proud moment, but it was not easy.
Many of my extended family members were not even made aware of my job. My parents, though, were very supportive, especially my mother as she didn’t have the chance to continue her education to a higher level.
At work, we were constantly in fear of our security. My colleagues and I had to use different exits when we made our way home, and leave at different times. Once, I witnessed a bomb blast in front of my office and the dead bodies in the streets afterwards. An office colleague was murdered in a busy location in Kabul.
I never imagined that just a few years later women’s rights would be pushed back decades
However, I remained hopeful for the future. I was not the only young woman working with Afghan politicians. Seeing talented Afghan women in ministries and parliamentary roles inspired me a lot. It seemed to me, at that time, that soon Afghan women would rule the nation.
I never imagined that just a few years later the cause of women’s rights would be pushed back decades, even the right to a basic education. Yet, in August 2021, that is what happened. The fall of Kabul and the desperate evacuations played out on television screens around the world.
The dramatic scenes were the final moment of a slow-motion betrayal. When the United States and its allies invaded in 2001 after the 9/11 attack, they assumed the responsibility to help Afghanistan transform in a stable way, however long it took. The Afghanistan I grew up in was undoubtedly flawed, but it was changing. There was progress in civil society, women’s rights, and the development of infrastructure, even as we had to contend with the constant fear of bomb blasts and the energy-sapping fact of corruption.
Yet as the war proved costly and time-consuming, the US began peace negotiations with the Taliban (the Afghan government itself was initially not invited). The result was the Doha Peace negotiation, one of the most complicated and unsuccessful peace strategies for Afghanistan. When Nato withdrew its forces, the Taliban rushed in and took the country by force.
The final Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s decision to flee has been controversial. However, as someone who has walked the corridors of the presidential palace, I believe that the fall of Kabul was not the decision of one person in power. The decision to leave Afghanistan to the Taliban was made by the international community, not President Ghani.
Now, one year on, the Taliban have come down from the mountains, but they are failing to govern Afghanistan. Women remain barred from jobs and education. There are reports of extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and violations of fundamental freedoms.
The United Kingdom government, though, is functioning – its response to the Ukraine crisis shows that when it seeks to do so, it can respond to an emergency. Last year, we left behind hundreds of vulnerable Afghans. Even many of those who made it to the UK are tormented by the thought of dependents left behind.
Today, my former female colleagues are scattered across the globe. Some live in neighbouring countries – the luckiest in developed countries such as the UK. Many, though, have been left behind. My own family is separated, and my only wish is to help my mother reunite with her sons.
I urge the UK government to remember its promises to protect women, civil society activists and the most vulnerable people. It should expand family reunion rights, and extend the current cap of its current pledge to take in 20,000 Afghans in the next four years. Afghans arriving in the UK should be welcomed, not turned away.
Tamana Safi is an Afghani refugee studying in the UK. She previously worked for Ashraf Ghani, the former president of Afghanistan.
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