By Zahra Shaheer, Afghan journalist and women’s rights activist
International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th around the world, including in Afghanistan. However, for Afghan women who don’t have access to their rights, it is a black day. A bouquet of flowers or a ‘Happy Women’s Day’ text message are not enough for us. What we want is our rights, social change, and equality.
I recently attended two events with other Afghan women living in the UK, and was really inspired by the ambition and resilience of this community. We share a common vision: we want to stand against misogyny in Afghanistan, and enable women to access education and work. We also want to support refugee women living in the UK to rebuild their lives – and see them welcomed with understanding and warmth, instead of hostility or discrimination.
Dark days for Afghan women
The conflict in Afghanistan, which has been raging for over 40 years, has left millions of widows and orphans. More than 500 days have now passed since schools were banned for Afghan girls after primary school, and it has been nearly three months since the Taliban banned girls from attending university and women from their former jobs. Forced marriages are all too common. We need to put an end to this, and the world must put pressure on the Taliban to give girls and women their basic rights.
Afghan women want equality, and most of them are protesting or meeting privately to bring about change and demand their rights. Millions of women are at risk in Afghanistan, and many of them need to be relocated – for example, many families have been torn apart, with some members living as refugees in the UK or Europe while their loved ones are stuck in Afghanistan, living in fear.
We must stand with these women who are at risk and fight for their rights as human beings. They need our help, whether it be in Afghanistan or Iran. We also need to provide safe routes for those Afghan women who are in most danger to come to the UK, and family reunion visas for those who are separated from close family – so they are not forced to make dangerous journeys.
Supporting Afghan women in the UK
The first event I attended was the Afghan Women Conference. We invited women activists, businesswomen and other guests, encouraging them to raise their voices about the situation for women in Afghanistan and Iran. It’s up to us to advocate for Afghan and Iranian women and girls, whose rights are being taken away by the Taliban and Islamic government.
At the conference, we discussed the mental health and integration issues faced by Afghan refugees. Having a global network of dedicated activists can help make a real difference in the lives of Afghan women and integrate them into their communities. We also discussed ways to support Afghan widows in Afghanistan, who are responsible for their families’ financial well-being.
We exchanged ideas on how to support Afghan women in the UK to set up their own small businesses, such as securing loans from UK banks, registering their companies, and completing other bureaucratic processes. The conference also aimed to help new refugees with guidance on how to apply for visas or travel documents.
The other event I attended was a celebration of International Women’s Day for Afghan and Central Asian women. We invited MPs and again women activists, journalists from Afghanistan and Iran.
It focused on helping Afghan women and standing against the Taliban’s oppression. It aimed to raise awareness of the challenges faced by Afghan women and to empower them to speak out for their rights. The event discussed ideas for supporting Afghan women with education, economic opportunities, and other resources to help them achieve independence and equality.
Overall, both events shared a common goal of supporting and empowering Afghan women, and I hope that these efforts will continue to make a positive impact in the lives of these brave and resilient women.