This post is part of an ongoing series of reports on the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and its impact on women by feminist author Phyllis Chesler.
The requests for help keep on coming from educated, feminist women who are still trapped in Afghanistan. The Taliban has taken the internet down intermittently, in one neighborhood after another, but WhatsApp seems to be working.
Here is what they are saying:
“I am appealing to your team to speed up the process of rescuing activists. Anyone who writes against the Taliban, the Taliban can find and arrest them easily. After arresting, too much torture and then either we die under torture or he/she is killed.”
“I’m really scared.”
“We do not have high speed internet in Herat for a long time. Those cruel people can do everything. This is only the first of many other firsts.”
“I am ready to pay but I have to bring my mother out with me. We are both under serious threat because of my activities.”
“I am in danger but I cannot just leave my children behind.”
Ah, here’s the problem. Educated, feminist Afghan women will not and cannot leave without their families, or at least without some family members. Some have an infant, others have a disabled husband. Still others have ailing parents or activist siblings who will be held responsible and punished by the Taliban for any family member who escapes.
Traditionally, immigrants from Europe to America always came with their families. Few came alone—unless they were men who planned to work in America and then send money back home for a later passage. Jewish men were usually escaping a pogrom. Other immigrants were always escaping the most profound poverty or a war zone.
It is very dangerous for a woman to immigrate alone. She will be harassed and assaulted, which will dishonor her, not her assailants. Without family to take her in, without language and professional skills, few jobs will be available for her except those of housework or prostitution. True, she will not be living under the Taliban.
So far, over the years, Western countries have probably absorbed more than a million Afghan refugees. These countries may be at a breaking point. How many more can we afford to evacuate? Chartering planes and paying a ransom per head to the Taliban is expensive. Resettling each immigrant: Housing, feeding, processing, training, extending health, educational, and employment services, are also expensive.
A friend and colleague, Joel Levy, the former President of the Center for Jewish History, just attended a Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) webinar in which he was told that about 53,000 Afghan refugees are now in America, all in temporary housing, some still on military bases. It may be far too soon to estimate how many Afghan interpreters have been resettled in the West—and how many endangered feminists, activists, dissidents and gays are among them. It is far too early to even render a "guesstimate."
I also pointed out in a previous piece that accepting Afghan men means accepting men who may hold very specific and negative views about a woman’s place.
While male misogyny certainly exists in the West, at least we have criminalized—if not abolished—crimes such as incest, marital rape, woman-battering, sexual harassment, and rape. Among tribal peoples, in this case Muslim people, practices such as daughter-battering, arranged marriage, often to a first cousin, face-veiling, close monitoring of female relatives, polygamy, enforced domestic servitude, no female-initiated divorce, not even from an extremely violent husband, and honor killing are normative practices.
One member of our feminist team, Mandy Sanghera, estimates that we now need at least a half million dollars to get out many of the urban, educated, Afghan women who have known track records as women’s rights activists or as women with professions. Is this even possible? Who can raise this amount of money? How many lawyers might we need? How many can volunteer their services? How much will governments be able to help?
In terms of Western resources: Now that we have pulled out so shamefully and so non-strategically, what will it cost us, in blood and treasure, when Afghan-based terrorists attack our people, roads, standing structures, and infrastructure? What will it cost us to rebuild our bodies, our minds, and our buildings?
The situation in Afghanistan is dire. As I pointed out recently, women judges are on the run. The Taliban opened the jails and now the wife killers and child rapists are vowing revenge against the brave judges who sentenced them. The judges are in hiding, and moving from house to house.
Listen to the graciousness and “soul” just expressed by one Afghan feminist:
“We all know that the situation is not good because I am also in Kabul. We should be brave and have courage to face these difficulties until these blessed and great souls take us out of here. They are doing their best without knowing us, without anything in return. We should be thankful to them and be patient and give them time to bring us all out.”
Amen, dear Sister, Amen.
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