“You know, I used to look out of the window and tell my mother that one day someone will send a plane that I can hop on and flee,” says the once rebellious Zahra*** about her survival tactics. She, in her 20s, has worked towards the betterment of Afghan women and children through several NGOs in the past, and had a steady job in finance before the Taliban asked working women to shut shop.Also Read - Over 50 Dead, Several Others Critically Injured As Fresh Blast Rocks Afghanistan's Kunduz City
“But I want to go out, eat out with my friends. I don’t want to wear a burqa!” she screams, almost. In an exclusive interview with WION’s Pallabi Dey Purkayastha – this woman, a headstrong persona, hiding somewhere in the deep pockets of the troubled country- tells us some women are supporting the Taliban and are party to a confused war, why Taliban’s definition of the female population angers her and what she would do if help doesn’t come sooner. Also Read - Taliban Vandalises Karte Parwan Gurdwara in Kabul, Footage Shows Militants Breaking Into Office | Watch
Edited excerpts from this video-recorded conversation: Also Read - Unification of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Afghan Taliban-Pakistan Should Worry
WION: You have worked with NGOs of international repute, and also served as finance & marketing executive in a private company. Now, you say, you have been forced into being a homebody. How are you coping with this drastic transition?
ZAHRA: This horrible, horrifying condition was unexpected. It’s like everything went upside down. Jobs are closed for females and coping in such conditions is never easy. And I can say that we, who are currently living in Afghanistan, are the survivors. And everyone knows that it’s really hard to cope mentally. It’s like we are living in our own homeland as prisoners. After higher studies and all that hard work, we have reached a point where we can contribute towards our country. But the Taliban has pushed us back and changed everything; sitting home and doing household chores. That is always the perspective of a male-dominant, patriarchal society and Afghanistan is one now. And, we, the females, who have always faced challenges, are just homebodies.
WION: You mentioned that the Taliban looks down upon women who work and their choice of language to describe them is objectionable, to put it subtly. What is the word on the street about their opinion of career-oriented ladies?
ZAHRA: As I mentioned previously, Afghanistan was a male-dominated society. But, we do have male members who support female empowerment and help them chase their dreams in different career paths like photography, theatre, sports, among others. But Taliban’s opinion of women working in different sectors is unacceptable. They themselves had announced that doctors and teachers can go to work. And, despite that, they have banned teachers who used to teach in boys’ schools. Taliban (has) point (ed) out that women are s**ts for working in (the) photography field, filmmaking and sports. Of course, they banned sports, too, because women wear clothes, and the body is visible. This is a stupid idea.
They say that women are doing unethical actions at their workplace. They cannot put labels on women as being sluts. They have no right to say that. And our people, who have enough knowledge and those who have enough understanding of women, always support us: both in and outside of Afghanistan. But people who are in Afghanistan, it’s not easy for them to support the idea of women working in any field, because it may end up in death (for them). And even I don’t want to lose that kind of men in my society (who support women), because that’s (for) our next generation. And I don’t want them to lose their lives.
WION: Despite the mayhem, the Taliban has found sympathizers within the country, and some are women. What’s the logic behind those who support them? How are they looking at this so-called victory, especially the female population?
ZAHRA: Women who support the Taliban, they went on the street and claimed victory, saying ‘this is the victory of Islam. This is the victory of Afghanistan’. Because they think or their thinking (is) that Afghanistan was overpowered by foreigners for 20 years (referring to the presence of Americans). And now, all of Afghanistan is banned in a wrong way, in a non-Muslim way, which is not right. And these women think they’re (helping) the Taliban claim victory for them and help them live in a Muslim society. These are women who were not comfortable wearing colourful dresses and would wear black burqas instead. And, we (the liberal women of Afghanistan) didn’t say, ‘Come on, wear colourful dresses because this is Afghanistan. Foreigners are ruling this country.’ That has never happened and now they are telling the media that Taliban’s takeover is the victory of Islam. Okay, no one is against Islam in Afghanistan, we are all Muslims.
And we all know that in Islam we don’t wear tight clothes as they attract (male gaze). These women are thinking that the Taliban has ‘allowed’ them to wear black burqa from head-to-toe. I’m not comfortable wearing black burqa. I’m comfortable in wearing my own type of dress, my own choice of colour, not black. And these women, I don’t know what to say to them–I don’t have the right to insult them–because they’re not aware of their own rights, and they’re just throwing women’s freedom away over some colours. What kind of freedom is this? And they are so limited: even in their ideas. I can say that they are insane. They only know how to read the Quran or go to Madrasa. But Islam is beyond that. Once they get to know about their rights, I’m sure they will go against the idea of Taliban (rule).
WION: You have tried fleeing the country but couldn’t. Also, you think media professionals (female) find it easier to leave Afghanistan as opposed to those who come from other backgrounds. Why so?
ZAHRA: We all know that working as a TV reporter means you need to showcase what the truth is, without any fear or hesitation. And, for the past 20 years, our female reporters have done that. They try to show what the truth is on TV and have always been trying to bring about change. And their identity is so visible to everyone: their names, their last names and even their faces. And they’re known by everyone in the country. So, in this regime of Taliban, it’s not easy for them to hide under such conditions as anything could happen at any moment. So, that’s why, they can flee to other countries sooner and be evacuated after say two days of petition. But, for other people like us, who come from different professional backgrounds, we are not allowed. It’s not easy for us to be evacuated soon. This condition is horrible.
WION: If help doesn’t come sooner-or at all-what’s your plan of action?
ZAHRA: I don’t know what will happen (to my life). It’s so uncertain. I don’t know. I cannot go to work and have to stay only at home. It’s not easy for me. But then I cannot go anywhere with my friends. I cannot go for walks. I cannot go to restaurants with my friends, male and female. Something I used to do just two months ago. And I don’t know how to explain it. It’s beyond horrible. And every woman in this country is uncertain as to what will happen next, and when. The government is focusing on Islam. Not in (its) politics and politicians. Even when a reporter asks them a question (about women),they change the topic to Islam. They’re not answering it politically, which the people are dying (to know about) each day. Our economy is zero now. People are dying because of lack of food. There’s so much uncertainty. I don’t know. I really don’t know what I will do if help doesn’t come sooner.
***The name of the interviewee has been changed and other information withheld for security reasons.
-The author Pallabi Dey Purkayastha writes about movies, TV shows, relationships and travel for WION.