In the words of Arefa*: ‘I had a job before. I had bread and peace. I am now under house arrest.’

Arefa* is a teacher and midwife in Farah, Afghanistan.

Photo: UN Women/Habib Sayed Bidell

Before 15 August [2021], I worked as teacher and a midwife in various public and private hospitals. After the fall of Kabul, I became unemployed because it was not possible to work with the restrictions imposed by the Taliban. But during these nearly two years, I have directly and indirectly tried to fight for the rights of Afghan women and girls. I raised my voice against the policies of the Taliban to save Afghan women from this crisis.

I have been subjected to physical violence and threats many times. I am currently living in hiding because of these threats, because I have criticized their policies in the media and social networks. I don’t have a job because I apply everywhere and get accepted, but when they learn my identity, they fire me. They feel that my presence in their organisation will put them at risk.

The most important change in my life after 15 August is that I feel weak, both mentally and physically. I have nightmares. The Taliban have imposed so many restrictions on Afghan women and girls that today I even feel like I can’t breathe. The 15th of August is a black day in the history of Afghanistan, when we women and girls were imprisoned in our homes.

No one supports Afghan women. I never imagined myself so alone. I don’t think there are more difficult days than these that we women in Afghanistan are experiencing.

Life is like that. Whether we like it or not, we have to continue as long as we are alive. Life under Taliban rule is so difficult and unbearable that it cannot be expressed. We have to burn and build. I had a job before. I had bread and peace. But the Talib took everything from me. I am now under house arrest.

Afghan women are strong beyond the world’s imagination and continue their struggle. We have been fighting for our education and work rights on the streets for almost two years. Although our struggles have been unsuccessful, we still have hope. If the international community and the United Nations support us, our struggles will yield results.

Unfortunately, the international community has not supported Afghan women and is only watching us. The Taliban can be changed if the international community supports us. How long will they continue to watch the situation of women in Afghanistan? Watch our destruction?

Half of Afghanistan’s population is dying. Does dying mean something other than this? We have been insulted and humiliated so much that, even if we are allowed to work and study, it will take years to return to normal [life], mentally and physically. We can’t even sleep peacefully at night in our homes. Every moment I imagine that they will come and arrest me. What I hear from Taliban prisons is horrible. This terror has taken away my peace of mind.

My plea to the international community is to stand with us.

* Names, locations, and course of events have been changed in this article to ensure the safety of the woman featured.

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UN Women is on the ground in Afghanistan, supporting Afghan women and girls every day. Our in-country strategy centres on investing in women—from scaling up support to women’s organisations and women humanitarian workers delivering life-saving services, to investing in women-led businesses.

Originally published on UN Women