Last week, in solidarity with the brave Afghan women fighting for survival in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, I shared a photograph to my social media accounts of half my face, obscured by my hand, marked with the hashtag #standwithwomeninafghanistan.
In the days that followed, I got the slightest taste of the threats and misogyny Afghan women tell me they experience every day.
One Twitter user professing allegiance to the Taliban's Islamic Emirate said he would sexually assault me. Another called me "an instrument of sex." A deluge of Afghan and Muslim men falsely alleged that the women of Afghanistan are very happy and have total freedom to work and travel through society. The patronizing, threatening remarks emphasize the experiences Afghan women relate to me. Below are just a fraction of their stories, told under pseudonyms because speaking out in Afghanistan is dangerous.
Sometimes Taliban subjugation of women is subtle. Doctor Sima tells me the Taliban often force her to move to the back seat of her car at vehicle checkpoints. Zoya described the terror she felt when a group of 11 gun-bearing Taliban publicly shamed her clothing at a tailor last week.
Often, repression is physical. The Taliban beat 10-year-old Fatima so severely for failing to cover her head that she lost control of her bladder. Shima, a member of the persecuted Hazara minority, has twice been beaten, and threatened with death, for appearing in public without a male family member. Zahra, the once prominent principal of a girls’ school, has also been publicly beaten twice by the Taliban and now fears leaving her relatives’ home.
After being forced to marry at 10, Nasrin tried multiple times to commit suicide until a divorce 10 years ago gave her a new chance at life. Now, Nasrin’s Taliban-affiliated husband threatens to find her and force their 22-year-old daughter to become a Taliban bride.
Maryam’s husband disappeared, likely at the Taliban’s hands, several months ago. The Taliban killed Feroza’s husband in November. Unable to work in the Taliban’s Afghanistan, both women have lost the ability to support their families or enter the United States.
Despite being targeted by the Taliban for having worked with a U.S. company, Aqila is not eligible for a special immigrant visa or referral to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Likewise, the companies Rabia worked for have provided no means for her to leave her country. Rabia says that "death is better than this life."
Sexual violence is another tool of social ostracization. Ben Owen, president of Flanders Fields, said the Taliban raped a female member of the Afghan National Police in the back seat of a car. They then sent a video of the rape to the woman’s relatives to shame her. Jess Owen, director of operations at Flanders Fields, said that after another Afghan woman was raped by an unknown assailant, her brother told her she "might as well kill herself" because she was "no good to anyone anymore."
The stories of women and girls sold, taken as wives, or murdered by the Taliban remain untellable. Many Afghan women remain incarcerated for protesting against the Taliban. Those who have been released are not free to speak about their confinement. All Afghans face harrowing conditions, but in recognition of the hopelessness, threats, imprisonment, and death of women living under Taliban rule, we all must stand with women in Afghanistan.
Beth Bailey (@BWBailey85) is a freelance writer from the Detroit area.