As It Happens·Q&A

She had a career she was proud of in Afghanistan. Now she has to stay home

A former director at a government ministry in Afghanistan says she used to travel the world, working for her people and championing the rights of women. Now, with the Taliban in power, she has no income and just stays home watching TV news.

As G20 leaders vow to help Afghans, a former government director begs them not to forget women's rights

Women walk past a shop with defaced pictures of women in Kabul on Oct. 6. When the Taliban took over the country in August, the militant group barred women from most jobs and education. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Story Transcript

A former director at a government ministry in Afghanistan says she used to travel the world, working for her people and championing the rights of women. Now she has no income and hardly leaves her home.

After the Taliban took over the country on Aug. 15, the militant group barred women from most jobs and education. Girls are only permitted to attend school until Grade 5. 

The country, which is reliant on international aid, has also seen its economy all but collapse under Taliban rule. 

At a virtual G20 summit on Tuesday, world leaders vowed to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, even if it means co-ordinating efforts with the Taliban, an organization many Western countries, including Canada, consider a terrorist organization.

The former government employee, who CBC is only identifying by her surname, Dawi, is begging those G20 leaders not to forget the plight of Afghan women. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off, which has been edited for length and clarity. 

When the Taliban took over, many Afghans left or tried to leave. You and your mother decided to stay to wait and see. What were you hoping would happen? 

When they came on the first week … they said [we will] have … a general [amnesty] for all. And also they said that we've learned from our past mistakes. And also they said that all Afghan men and women have a chance to do what they want in the country.

We thought that they … could not wind back the clock to 1990.

So you were hoping this wasn't the Taliban of the 1990s. And they told you to go back to work. You went back beginning of September to your office. What happened when you got to the door?

I received the message from coworkers and other colleagues that all directors can come to meet the new authorities [and the] new minister.

Before I entered, there was a very angry gunman, the Taliban, shouting at me, "Where are you going?"

I told him … "I'm a director." I showed my ID card.

He directly said: "No, don't go."

The man with a gun said you can't come in?

Yes, he directly said, "No, don't go. Women should stay at home until their fate is decided by the Islamic Emirate."

I'll never forget this sentence.

At that time, I lost my everything. I lost my heart. 

And what about your mother? Is she able to go back to work?

She's a teacher in the high school. [The Taliban] promised to her that one day you will start your job again, but not yet. 

She's still at home like me. We're both staying at home — no job, no responsibility, nothing.

And no money.

Of course, no money. If there is no job, so how can we find money?

How are you going to survive?

We have some money [saved]. And also, I'm a co-founder of the Dawi Educational Center. Now, Dawi Educational Center also helps me sometimes. 

However, in Kabul, everything is very expensive … If you want bread, before [it cost] 10 afghanis. Now it's about 20 afghanis.

Students in a primary school attend a lesson in Kandahar on Sept. 28. The Taliban is only allowing girls to attend school until Grade 5. (Bilal Guler/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

We know Western leaders, the G20, are meeting Tuesday to discuss how to perhaps give funding back to Afghanistan, even though the Taliban is in power. What do you want them to know? 

Please, please help Afghan women. Please raise our rights.

I want to raise my voice to all the world to help Afghan women to again start our jobs and for girls to go to school, university, like a normal life, like other women in other countries have. We want this.

In Afghanistan, there are a lot of women [without] husbands, like my mother. And they have no one to help them. We are feeding ourselves. We are [earning a] salary and we are using it for ourselves. If there are no jobs, how [can we] survive? 

I finished my studies in Malaysia. I did my master's. I struggled a lot for my life. I suffered a lot in my life. So what's my fault? I did not choose my gender by myself.

In an article published in the Washington Post you asked, "How can you now leave us to a regime that wants to turn our country into a concentration camp for women?"

All women are … sisters. So I'm sure when a woman, when a lady in every country, every point of the world, she suffers a bad situation, I'm the same like her.

Because of this, I'm writing this letter for all women in the world.

You're asking women in the world to imagine what it would be like if tomorrow I couldn't go to work, if all the women that I work with were told, "You can't come to work, you can't come in," all the girls who were going to school were told, "You can't come to school," all the students were told, "Go home." 

We are humans and we just want a normal life for ourselves. We studied. We suffered a lot.

I have a commitment to my country to serve the people. I serve the women … but now how can I?

People are wondering: Has the Taliban changed? We don't know. But we do know that Afghanistan has changed, that in the past 20 years, women have taken all kinds of jobs and become educated. So do you think the Taliban can understand they can't run the country without you?

Afghanistan changed, not the Taliban.

[During] the first period of Taliban [rule] in 1990 ... I was young.

But now I'm a director, a master … Now I see all the world. I went to the parties. I was a member of the delegation of Afghanistan in the Paris Agreement. I was a member of the Afghanistan delegation in COP 9 [UN climate convention] in Geneva. I was there. 

So how can I … now start from zero?

Women gather to demand their rights under the Taliban rule during a protest in Kabul on Sept. 3. (Wali Sabawoon/The Associated Press)

Does the Taliban realize that it cannot run Afghanistan without the talent, knowledge and experience of those women who've worked there for the past 20 years?

The Taliban never talks with women [about] what we want. And we're not allowed to ask them … why we're not allowed to work.

They don't care about our social rights, our political rights, our economic rights.

They are talking about us by their own selves. What is decided about us is decided by their own selves. They're not asking us.

Do you have any hope that you will be able to return to work?

One day, I hope so, but when I'm seeing the situation, when I'm seeing the Taliban news every day, I think I'm not sure.


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. 

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