The Taliban want to silence women – we must amplify their voices
The Taliban say they will allow girls to be educated, women to work and be in politics, but there is doubt as whether they can or will keep that promise. The very least we can do is ask these women what help and support they need.
As the August 31st deadline for ending evacuations out of Kabul airport draws near, the many thousands of those seeking to flee the Taliban regime grow ever more desperate.
The Afghan community in Camberwell and Peckham are telling me of the dreadful jeopardy faced by their relatives in Kabul and Jalalabad. Many have worked directly for the UK army or our embassy and feel vulnerable as a result. Others are being specifically targeted by the Taliban for their role in Afghan politics or security. They, and their entire families, are being told quite explicitly by the Taliban “we know who you are, we know what you’ve done and where you live”.
Many have already fled their homes to go into hiding elsewhere in Kabul and then have to work out how to get safely to the airport. They need to show proof of what they’ve done in the former regime or for the UK, which makes them a target for the Taliban, but it is the Taliban themselves who are managing the roads leading to the airport and looking at documents.
It is women and girls who benefited most from the end of the previous Taliban regime and they have most to fear from the new Taliban rule
In the searing heat and chaos, our military personnel, diplomatic staff and UK border teams are doing heroic work. They are caring for the thousands who are fleeing to or are in the airport and checking to make sure that they are safe from a threatened IS attack. Also, that we don’t give refuge to those who want to come to the UK in order to carry out terror attacks.
They are giving out thousands of meals, litres of water, baby food, snacks and nappies. At the same time having to identify the tiny minority who are on our “watch list” as intending to do us terrible harm.
But of course, most will be staying in Afghanistan either because they can’t, don’t feel able to flee or because they don’t want to. Amongst the most vulnerable are women and girls.
Under the previous Taliban regime 20 years ago, there were no girls in school. Up till they took over again last week, 40% of Afghan schoolchildren were girls. A whole generation of girls have been educated and a whole cohort of young women have gone out to work. Under the previous Taliban regime there were no women in public life. But up until the Taliban takeover there were 69 women Afghan MPs. It is women and girls who benefited most from the end of the previous Taliban regime and they have most to fear from the new Taliban rule.
Our armed forces will shortly be leaving, but our concern for Afghans and especially for the women and girls must remain.
Last week in an unprecedented move, 175 women MPs from every party in the House wrote to Elay Ershad, who as an MP attended our Women MPs of the World Conference in 2018, to express to her our solidarity.
The Taliban say they will allow girls to be educated, women to work and be in politics but there is doubt as whether they can or will keep that promise. The very least we can do is keep in touch directly with those women and ask them what help and support they need. Everyone has acknowledged that women are in the greatest jeopardy and it’s important to listen to what they have to say.
The tradition is for men in government to talk to male community and governmental leaders abroad. Our government should talk directly to the women, about everything at every stage. And they should appoint a cabinet minister to liaise with Afghan women leaders to give their situation a proper focus. The Taliban want to silence women. We must amplify their voices.
Harriet Harman is the Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham and chair of the Human Rights Committee.
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