An Afghan Woman Calls American Women to Solidarity

“… no way to live like a human.”

Introduction

Many advocates for the human rights of Afghan women join the letter writer in awaiting a reply from the Vice President that will reflect the responsibility that all American women should recognize, to be in active solidarity with Afghan women, as their aspirations and struggles are being crushed under extreme fundamentalist patriarchy, elements of which are evident in their own country. The writer’s name, institutional affiliations and location have been redacted so as not to compromise her security. As peace educators, we recognize that through these harrowing times, her security and survival and that of all other at-risk women educators in Afghanistan is essential to the future of that nation.

In this letter, echoing the painful anxieties of all Afghan women who, having struggled to bring their sisters and their society into the 21st century, are now left to endure the misogynous rule of the Taliban, an Afghan woman addresses an American woman who has also transcended social and gender limitations. “Are we” she asks, “supposed to live the rest of our lives in fear…?”

She speaks of hopes for the future such as those envisioned by women and girls throughout the world with the 2020 election of Kamala Harris as the first woman Vice President of the United States. Of Caribbean and South Asian heritage, VP Harris represented some progress toward the realization of their longings for an equitable socio-political balance, a goal that has informed and enlivened the struggles of all women human rights activists. They saw in her election a practical possibility for a more just global order in which women no longer live in fear, but in the enjoyment of their fundamental human rights. That vision of an equitable social balance and a just political order remains central to global civil society movements, advocating for a future in which human rights are the assumed and practiced norms. Such movements are calling all of our public institutions to be defenders and purveyors of these norms. Yet, as is painfully evident in this letter, our institutions are failing those they were instituted to serve, as the governments of Afghanistan and the United States appear to have failed Afghan women.

Her plea can be read as an affirmation of a belief that there are still some in our institutions who will stand against the failure. There are some whose experiences give them an awareness of the basic human need for security and dignity sorely lacking in most those in charge, still guided by the unchallenged patriarchal views that infuse too many public institutions. The number of women’s human rights advocates in government are few but growing, kindling the flickering, always persistent flame of insistence that we confront the sources of fear and affect changes in this and other such situations, and so, “keep hope alive.”

That flickering flame could grow into the torch that continues to keep the fears of the abandoned in the light of public attention, as we must now keep public attention focused on the plight of Afghan women. Women throughout the world are committed to maintaining this focus. This open letter charges us with the responsibility to maintain the focus, and to advocate vigorously for the protection of the human rights of Afghan women. Women are leading civil society in taking up the challenges of public service and civic purpose, responding to militarism, authoritarianism, climate and pandemic disasters, and in evolving mobilizations to confront racial and gender injustices. The gender disaster now suffered by Afghan women should inspire responses of equal vigor. In some instances, women civil society leaders put themselves at great risk to advance justice and equity. None are more courageous than the Afghan women, publicly demonstrating to assert the fundamental human rights we have come to recognize as inalienable. We who stand in active solidarity with them await the response from the Vice President that she stands with us.

– BAR (9/27/21)

Letter of transmittal of the open letter to Vice President Kamala Harris via the White House Gender Policy Council

September 23, 2021

[To the White House Gender Policy Council]

With heavy hearts, we send along a very moving letter to Vice President Kamala Harris from [name redacted]… a self-made and educated single woman and [redacted summary: administrator of a university in Afghanistan, where she received international recognition].

This letter from one individual encapsulates the plight of untold numbers of women who embraced values of self-reliance, education, and freedom, which the United States has promoted for twenty years in Afghanistan. These women, who have risked everything to build a vibrant Afghan Civil Society with our encouragement, deserve our loyalty and attention.

Can you please bring this to the attention of the vice president’s staff and provide a response we can share with [name redacted] and others.

Thanks so much for your consideration and continuing hard work on this matter.

Sincerely,

Rev. Chloe Breyer, Dr. Betty Reardon & Dr. Ellen Chesler, (Conveners of a citizens’ group advocating for Afghan women)

Open Letter to Kamala Harris

Greetings from Afghanistan. This is [name redacted] an Afghan woman who is concerned about losing my job, my hopes and all my future plans; a woman who started the journey of my life and it has been as difficult as you would think. When I was two years old, I lost my mother, and I don’t have any sisters. My father remarried, and I grew up under the care of my uncle. To shorten my story, despite the challenges (mentally) that I faced, I graduated from university, majoring in literature and humanity, at the top of my class with the highest grades. At the same time, I learned and improved my English Language and computer skills, where for a female, it was frowned upon to study in a course with a male teacher. I didn’t give up and proved myself to be a brave woman. Thus, I was the first female in my family who bought a cell phone, the first who had a desktop computer, and the first who got her driver’s license. I also went to a gym and finally stood up to my family and did not marry, for I chose to flourish my education and help others, which is my priority and goal.

The second step of my life revolves work experience. I had started an internship program which was supported by [a civil society organization] through a leadership program; following that, I worked as a manager in a private school. Furthermore, I have taught English at the intermediate level until I started working as [a university administrator at a university in Afghanistan.] At this position, I have done more than what was expected of me. I worked actively with different universities, institutions, and NGOs all around the world, including [redacted] I received an award from [redacted] for my services and effectiveness. My plan was to get my Master’s Degree at a top university outside of Afghanistan because I believe being educated is the only way to reach my goals and to be able to serve other people as well. Unfortunately, when our country was taken over by the Taliban, all my plans have thwarted, and my hopes are lost.

Now, to sum this up, as a single female who spent my whole life wishing to achieve my goals and make my hopes come true, I now have to sit at home with my stepmother just because the Taliban won’t let women work in a society with men and women together side by side?! Are we supposed to live the rest of our lives in fear because of working and cooperating with foreign institutions in the past?! Or is it the equity to not live like a human because of working with the government?! What is the meaning of human rights when I don’t have permission to leave my home without my father or brother?! So, at this time I must get out of the country, and I just hope to be helped if I am eligible. I really need your kind consideration because there is no way for me to live like a human here; I can’t breathe.

With Regards,

[An Afghan Woman Educator]

 

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