Women Betrayed by the Taliban and the Global Community
Women in Afghanistan are now banned from attending university and working for NGOs and international organizations, the only two options that had remained for women to be in the public sphere. All avenues to operate within public spaces are now closed to an entire gender. The rights of 50% of the population have been completely circumscribed by the other 50% and it is remarkable how little outcry this move has received.
The people of Afghanistan are suffering from widespread famine and poverty, with vulnerable minorities and children hit hardest. The Taliban had already restricted women's movement, requiring women to be accompanied by a male relative when going out anywhere, including to receive medical care and famine relief. Teenage girls have gone without access to education for over a year. Women without male relatives are dying from hunger. International organizations, many of whom immediately suspended their operations entirely, pointed out that they would be unable to access women or girl children under the current laws, eliminating what little remained of assistance for females.
This misogynistic, theocratic and fascist set of gendered laws, designed to erase women entirely outside of their role in giving birth, should be receiving a huge outcry. Yet, apart from expressions such as the UN Secretary General's statement that he was "deeply shocked," and the closing of several international aid operations, little has been done by the international community, increasingly complicit in the erasure of Afghan women.
Since July of 2021, those of us familiar with the situation warned that this is exactly what would happen. Rather than prepare exit strategies for women, or even make the protection of women's rights a condition of diplomatic and humanitarian engagement, the countries of the world engaging at all focused on helping the men while basically handing over the fate of women to the Taliban.
The US, for example, prepared theoretical exit routes (badly, inefficiently and inhumanely) in the form of Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), for Afghans who had been employed by the US, 99% of which were men. Spouses and children of these men would also, theoretically, be eligible to accompany their male relatives, formerly employed by the US, if they had travel documents. Despite being informed repeatedly that this would eliminate the possibility of travel for most wives and female children who had been been unable to secure travel documents and now could not even go outside alone to attempt to secure them, the US simply insists that it has created migration pathways for Afghans when it has not.
Those of us operating in the evacuation space in August of 2021 shouted repeatedly that we were losing our last chance to assist the women of Afghanistan before the Taliban once again attempted to render an entire gender invisible and cut off from all assistance. Nevertheless, everyone watching saw planes full of men and very, very few if any women departing Afghanistan before the withdrawal of all international operations at the end of August of 2021.
Women in Afghanistan are now effectively cut off from all ability to leave the country. Countries like the US impose fines on airlines when they allow those without valid travel documents to fly. No women can obtain those travel documents, therefore they cannot get on a flight out. Nor can they travel overland to a border, because they are no longer permitted to travel without male relatives. Even if they were accompanied by one, they most often do not have valid documents to cross.
Pro bono lawyers in the US, many assisted by Refugee Projects, filed almost 88,000 humanitarian parole applications to try to alleviate this problem. The US government denied virtually all of the applications, but retained all of the filing fees ($575 per application). Simultaneously, organizations like Refugee Projects advocated for the easing of travel restrictions for vulnerable groups, like women, LGBTQ persons, and minority groups, but Congress and the Executive branch ignored us. They have not even eased the asylum application process (something they have done in the past, for Cubans, for example) for the few Afghan women who made it the United States. Instead, each asylum applicant is still required to make a rigorous individual showing, in a contested asylum interview, substantiated by individual proof, that she has a well-founded fear of persecution by the Taliban if she is deported, and the fact that she is a woman, with all of her rights eliminated on account of her gender, is an insufficient argument under US asylum law. Imagine fleeing for your life, alone, threatened by the Taliban, with no clothes or food or personal items. Imagine no sleep for three days, groped by men for being an unaccompanied woman, shot at by the Taliban, narrowly avoiding being blown up by a bomb. Imagine being one of the few women able to make it out, and then have to prove to asylum officer that you would be persecuted if you returned. Imagine being told that you cannot argue that you would be persecuted because you are a woman, even though that is exactly what the Taliban is doing, because US law doesn't permit a women to make such an argument. This is exactly what one of our pro bono clients -- one of the very few women able to make it out -- was put through. Sometimes justice is a legal fiction. This is one of those times.
We knew this was coming. We ignored it, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for abandoning Afghan women.