As It Happens·Q&A

'We want our human rights,' says Afghan woman who risked her life to protest the Taliban

Karima Shujazada, 26, says after staying home for three weeks, she couldn't resist the temptation to protest the Taliban, despite the danger.

Women marched on the streets of Mazar-e-Sharif on Monday, despite being met with Taliban violence

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

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Karima Shujazada was a young girl the last time the Taliban took over Afghanistan, and her family fled to Iran.

But now she is 26 and a university graduate — and she is protesting the group's return to power. 

Shujazada helped organize a march in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif this week, where protesters called on the Taliban to preserve women's rights. It was one of several protests across the country since the militant organization seized control last month. 

From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban banned girls from school and women from the workplace.  Already there are signs the Taliban will once again clamp down on Afghan women's roles in public life. 

Shujazada was working with the Afghan Women's Skills Development Center before the Taliban took over last month. Since then, she's been stuck at home.

Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Karima, why did you decide to join the other women protesting in Mazar-e-Sharif this week? 

It has been more than 20 days since the arrival of Taliban ... and until Sunday, we were at home, and it was terrible. We were really tired of this isolation. 

Then my sister established a chat group to co-ordinate the Monday demonstration in Mazar-e-Sharif. And we started [to] raise our voice. 

The Taliban [has] not changed .... But the women of Afghanistan are changed. Karima Shujazada, protester

This going into the streets, women were doing that in Kabul and in Herat. Other places, we saw how the Taliban responded, that women were beaten in the streets of Kabul for being there. How did the Taliban respond to your protest?

Nearly 10 girls ... started our demonstration from the door of the shrine of Hazrat Ali. And we went to government [offices] of Balkh province. 

Then the Taliban beat two women in the street. 

But we continued and we were at the end of the demonstration when the Taliban [also] attacked journalists. 

The journalists [wanted] to cover our demonstration, but the Taliban beat them and two journalists were injured and then we had to escape it. 

Were you afraid?

Yeah. We are so afraid, because they beat the journalists so badly. 

Women hold banners as they attend a demonstration in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. (Shamshad News/Reuters)

You were just a child when the Taliban was in power the last time and you left with your family to go to Iran. What do ... your parents remember about that time? 

My mom, every day, [is watching] TV and crying, because of the coming Taliban. And it's so hard for me because now my mother saw all this [before] and we don't have any good stories about the Taliban.

They come kill people. They killed a lot of people, women, men, children. And they don't identify the women or their children. 

For people who don't know, the Taliban in power would not let girls go to school. Even education for boys was very limited. People were beaten, they were executed. They were imprisoned if they defied this organization. What gives you courage then to go into the streets? How does your mother feel about you going into the streets to protest against the Taliban? 

My mother [wants] freedom and likes freedom. Not like a woman [living] in their home and not [being seen]. 

She'll watch TV. And [she'll say], "I think I'm a free person."

She doesn't want to go to the demonstration [herself.] But in the end, I [told her], I don't have any work. And I studied for 16 years. 

A member of the Taliban forces points his gun at protesters during an anti-Pakistan protest near the Pakistan embassy in Kabul on Tuesday. Pakistan is widely seen as a backer of the Taliban. (Reuters)

So do you see a future for yourself in Afghanistan, for you and your sister? 

If I stay in Afghanistan, I don't have any future. Not just me — all girls in Afghanistan, all boys [who] want freedom. 

We can't work, and we can't raise our voice. 

Over these 20 years, [there have been] so many opportunities for girls and women in Afghanistan. Do you think it's possible for them now to go back to being behind closed doors, to going out only wearing a burka, and staying in the house all the time? 

If the Taliban continues their government … all things are possible. Because the Taliban [has] not changed. 

Taliban is that [same] Taliban from 20 years ago. But the women of Afghanistan [have] changed. The women can raise their voice, and they want their rights. 

If this situation continues, I think it [will be an] Afghanistan with a lot of terrorists, because as you know, last night Taliban announced their cabinet and five person of this cabinet are [on the] blacklist of United Nations and FBI.

Women hold banners as they attend a demonstration in Mazar-e-Sharif. (Shamshad News/Reuters)

The culture minister has already said that no girls or women can play sports anymore.... Do you have any hope that you will have the freedoms that you have enjoyed in these past 20 years? 

In these 20 days ... my life has changed. I worked as a peace building facilitator in a local organization, but now I don't have any job. 

Not just me, all girls. All women. Today, the Taliban they ... [removed] a woman teacher from Kabul University. And in the cabinet of Taliban, we don't have any woman. They destroyed the Ministry of Women. 

Some people say the Taliban changed. No — Taliban [has] not changed. 

And so you don't have much hope. I mean, nothing indicates that the Taliban has changed at all.

No. The Taliban never changed.

Twenty years ago, they killed and said, "OK, we killed." Now they kill people and say, "They lie, we don't kill. We respect the human rights."

But we don't have any respect. We don't see any respect from [them]. They beat [protesters at] the demonstration for women, today in Kabul ... yesterday in Herat. 

Will you go back out into the streets and protest again?

Yeah, because I don't want this life if I [am] at home and I can't work and I can't continue my education. 

I go to [the] street and again and again. We demonstrate because we want our human rights. 

I think death is better than this life. I am [just] afraid for my family. Not for myself. 

Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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