Ignoring Afghan women and girls is to do the Taliban’s work for them

In Afghanistan, women now talk about their futures in the past tense. I was on a Zoom call recently with two young university graduates in Kabul when I asked them about their plans. “I hoped to go …,” they answered. “I planned to do …”

But they won’t. They can’t. They have been judged and the verdict rendered: They are female, and for that, from the Taliban, there can be no mercy.

It’s been 11 months since the fall of Kabul, and the vanishing of women is nearly complete. The men who rule my country wield their control with a casual cruelty that can be breathtaking. Just this month, the Taliban told female employees of Afghanistan’s finance ministry — well-educated, well-qualified women barred from their workplace for these past 11 months — to send in male relatives to do their jobs because the ministry’s workload was becoming quite heavy.

Vanished. Just like the freedom to work in your chosen profession. The freedom to travel without a chaperone. The freedom to decide what you will wear in public. The freedom to go to school beyond sixth grade.

None of that will be necessary, the Taliban says. Not for Afghan women. The blue burqa awaits you. At puberty, your education ends, your autonomy ends. Your future is a memory you never had a chance to make.

Eleven months is all it took. The great vanishing of Afghan women is happening again before the eyes of the world, just the way it did in the 1990s when I was a child growing up under the Taliban’s first regime — a girl with no choice but to attend secret schools, walking frightened through Kabul’s streets among the blue shrouds of invisible women.

I am a woman now, in exile abroad, and I haven’t forgotten what those days felt like — just like I haven’t forgotten what I saw in the years after the Taliban’s retreat in 2001.

I haven’t forgotten the Afghan women who returned home, those educated exiles who had studied overseas and came back to take jobs in our public and private sectors and showed all of us that our futures were exactly that — our futures. Ours to shape.

In August, you’ll be seeing Afghanistan in the headlines again. It will be a year since the Taliban’s return and the U.S.-led evacuation of Kabul, an evacuation my students and I were part of. You’ll hear the stories of refugees scattered around the world, and of the immigration purgatory so many find themselves in, waiting for the chance to build new lives.

These refugees must have access to quality education — women and girls in particular. My school and I are committed to the effort, and the international community must make investment in these women and girls an aid priority, especially in those who will not soon leave the transit camps in which they live.

Many girls in these camps have not had schooling of any kind for a year or even longer. To ignore these girls is to do the Taliban’s job for them. The men who rule my nation fear what an educated girl can become and what an educated woman can create. I say, let them fear us.

They remember who led the way in reviving Afghanistan after the demise of their first regime. By investing in the education of Afghan refugees, we work to make that past prologue.

We are the women of Afghanistan. And our futures are ours.

Shabana Basij-Rasikh, a Washington Post Global Opinions contributing columnist, is co-founder and president of the School of Leadership, Afghanistan.
 Ignoring Afghan women and girls is to do the Taliban’s work for them