Women's lives at risk every day the government delays opening the Afghan resettlement scheme
In the weeks before the August 31st deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, hundreds of people were evacuated. The evacuation, as challenging as it was, was additionally affected by bombings that left hundreds of people dead or injured and resulted in the premature termination of some evacuation efforts.
Hundreds of people who wished to leave remained in Afghanistan and now fear for their lives. Among them are generations of women; including judges, lawyers, journalists, human rights activists, those who spent years working to make Afghanistan a country that affirms and protects the human rights of all. Now that the Taliban has taken over, they feel that a target has been placed on their backs. It is just a matter of time before the Taliban will knock on their doors.
Shortly after the takeover, the Taliban proclaimed that all female workers had to stay home, for the time being, justified by security concerns. Subsequently, universities received communique that they should segregate female and male students and continue education separately. However, the threats to women, and especially women in positions of power, are much more wide-ranging and staying home will not keep them safe. Among others, women judges, lawyers, journalists and other human rights defenders face certain death in Afghanistan.
Women and girls who remain in the country need the international community to fight for their rights in Afghanistan
Women lawyers and judges are at particular risk. Earlier this year, in January, two women judges working for the Afghan Supreme Court were shot dead by unidentified gunmen. Similar attacks against high profile judges, lawyers and other individuals followed. The Taliban takeover sent over 220 female judges into hiding and awaiting rescue that is not forthcoming. Now that prisoners are being released, including those whom they put in jail, they are constantly under threat. Other women who worked on the issue of violence against women and family matters are also at high risk.
Women human rights defenders have always been under threat from the hands of the Taliban and IS-K. However, the takeover in August changed their lives forever. In a wave of most recent attacks on women human rights defenders, in early November, four women were killed in northern Afghanistan, said to be human rights defenders. Among them was Frozan Safi, an activist and economics lecturer who was expected to be given a safe haven in Germany. She disappeared in October 2021 and was found with multiple gun wounds.
What can be done? Some of the women at risk need to be evacuated and resettled to a safe country. Such evacuations and resettlements are urgently needed. However, as state-run evacuations have concluded, the women at risk fight for spots along the very limited private efforts to evacuate people. Currently, very few countries are willing to come forward and take them in. Considering the limited options to leave Afghanistan, only a few of them will be lucky enough to be evacuated. Those with a very high public profile do not have any other options than leaving Afghanistan.
Baroness Kennedy QC took on the challenge to assist the human rights defenders in Afghanistan. Between 30th September and 24th October, she helped evacuate 103 women at risk and their close family members (close to 500 people in total). They were evacuated to Greece where they stay on temporary visas before they are resettled.
States need to up their game and revive their efforts to evacuate those at risk. Evacuations should not be left to private efforts. More states should offer assistance to give people at risk temporary safe haven before they find resettlement. States should also not delay their resettlement efforts any longer, as in the case of the UK’s Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS). Waiting for it to open, the lives of people at risk are lost every day.
Women and girls who remain in the country need the international community to fight for their rights in Afghanistan—for them to be able to continue to work in the profession they chose, for them to access education, and go outside freely and pursue their goals. Again, states need to work together to ensure that the rights of women in Afghanistan are non-negotiable.
Dr Ewelina U. Ochab is a human rights advocate, author and co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response.
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