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Thursday, September 23, 2021
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‘I’m afraid for myself, my life, my freedom to work’, says Afghan MP

In the chaos and uncertainty of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, legislator Farzana Kochai says she fears for her life first and her freedom next, but that Afghans will not tolerate a return to the harshest forms of Islamist rule.

Like other Afghans, she is laying low at home, with no idea how the situation will pan out for elected representatives such as her – or anyone else – under a group that imposed strict Islamic mores and punishments on society when last in charge.

“As an MP, as a female, as someone who is coming from civil society, activism and human rights, women’s rights, coming from this background for sure I am afraid for myself, my life, my freedom to work and my freedom to speak up,” she said by Zoom.

Blindsided by the speed of events, the 29-year-old, who was born in the northern province of Baghlan and has represented nomadic Afghans for more than two years, fires off the questions churning in her mind.

Will the Taliban’s sweep through the country, sealed with its entry into Kabul on Sunday, end up in any kind of peace deal with a government that has spent 20 years battling them? Will there be civil war again? And what are the hardline Islamists’ plans for women?

For the latter, Kochai sees two scenarios: one, where women can study and work, but with some limitations. This is the one outlined by Taliban representatives, who say women must wear headscarves but not be fully veiled and will be free to work and learn.

The second scenario would see women “removed from society” – as Kochai put it – not allowed to leave home without a male escort, barred from employment and school beyond a certain age.

This was the way of life was when the Taliban ruled from 1996-2001, and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday there were already accounts of what he called mounting human rights violations against women and girls.

Kochai said the generation that has grown up since 2001 would no longer tolerate hardline rule.

“If we can’t make a good deal with the Taliban, if Taliban can’t make it to satisfy the people of Afghanistan somehow or a little bit, then there would be a resistance,” she said, seeing the potential for more conflict.

“I’m afraid of these things,” she said. “First of all my life … and after that, my freedom.”

(Production: Lucy Marks)

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