In recent weeks, Taliban fighters have fired into the air to disperse protests in Kabul and other cities by women demanding participation in government, as well as rights to education and employment. A major rallying point for these protests has been the exclusion of women from the new cabinet unveiled last week, a step back from US-backed governments that included female lawmakers and technocrats.
The Taliban have said they would respect women’s rights within the limits of Islamic law, allowing them to go to work or school as long as they do not mix with men, an arrangement that often does not work in reality. The group has also tried to show the world that it has female support, with armed fighters last weekend accompanying hundreds of veiled women carrying banners supporting the Taliban and saying that female leaders who fled Afghanistan do not represent them. .
Here are some prominent women politicians who have left Afghanistan for fear of retaliation from the Taliban or have gone into hiding:
Fawzia Koofi, former Member of Parliament, 46
Koofi, who represented the northern province of Badakshan, was vice president of the Afghan National Assembly. In the months leading up to the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, she had participated in conversations with the group to urge that women have a greater say in political decisions.
As a single mother, advocating for Koofi’s wife’s issues made her unpopular with conservatives, leading to multiple assassination attempts, including one last year. Selected for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, Koofi left the country two weeks after the Taliban took control and is now pressuring governments to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
Naheed farid, former Member of Parliament, 37
Farid was the chair of the Parliament’s Commission for Women’s Affairs and has represented the western city of Herat since she was 27 years old. She has a BA in international relations from George Washington University and is known for her progressive views. Last year, he successfully drafted and implemented a proposal that allowed mothers’ names to be included on birth certificates.
Farid warned that a Taliban government without the supervision of the United Nations, the United States and other nations will be a “regime of terror.” He fled the country fearing for his own safety and that of his children, the BBC reported.
Sima Samar, Commissioner for Human Rights, 64 years old
Samar, a doctor from the Hazara minority community, became a refugee for the first time when she was forced to flee to Pakistan in the 1980s. As minister for women’s affairs in the interim government led by Hamid Karzai at the beginning of the decade In 2000, Samar monitored the re-entry of girls to school and women to the workforce.
Samar survived assassination attempts during her tenure, although she resigned as minister for questioning conservative interpretations of Islamic law and defending the right of women not to wear a burqa, a covering that hides the entire face from head to toe. Since then, he has run hospitals in Afghanistan and headed the independent human rights commission. His whereabouts are currently unknown.
Habiba sarabi, former negotiator at Taliban Talks, 65
A Hazara ethnic leader and a medical doctor, Sarabi was one of four leading women in the peace negotiations prior to the US withdrawal, during which she pushed for a greater role for women in Afghanistan.
Sarabi was Minister of Women’s Affairs for two years starting in 2002 and the first governor of Bamyan province west of Kabul. She won praise for her work on women’s rights and continues to criticize the Taliban from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.
Shukria Barakzai, former ambassador to Norway, 51
Barakzai, an Afghan journalist-turned-politician who served as ambassador to Norway, fled Afghanistan after the Taliban returned to power. He survived a deadly suicide bomb attack in 2014.
Barakzai, an ethnic Pahstun from Kabul, has been a leading advocate for women’s rights since 2001, when the United States toppled the Taliban. Just a few months after the fall of the regime, she founded Aina-e-Zan, or Women’s Mirror, a national weekly magazine that focused on women’s issues.
Barakzai has participated in a loya jirga, a large national assembly held to discuss crucial issues. She helped pass a new modern constitution in 2004, the same year she was elected a Kabul legislator.
Zarifa Ghafari, former mayor, 29
Ghafari was the youngest mayor of the city of Maidan Shahr, north of Kabul, before she and her family fled to Germany last month. As mayor, she survived six assassination attempts, and unknown gunmen killed her father last year in an attempt to force her to resign.
Ghafari was awarded the International Woman of Courage award in 2020 by US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo for her bravery and determination to keep women in public space.
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