‘Recalibrating activism’: Defiant resilience under Taliban rule

by Scott Peterson, CSM Staff writer @peterson__scott from LONDON

149097Afghan girls attend a class in an underground school in Kabul on July 30, 2022. For most teenage girls in Afghanistan, it's been a year since they set foot in a classroom. With no sign the ruling Taliban will allow them to return to formal studies, some girls and parents are trying to find ways to keep education from stalling for a generation of young women. Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

August 19, 2022

Before the Taliban swept to power across Afghanistan last year, one social activist had a firm grip on her aspirations.

As a university student in Kabul, Ms. F. was determined to make a difference in her country, where civil society was still a nascent, fragile concept, even after two decades flush with Western cash and attention.

She had worked to educate illiterate Afghan women in mosques, free of charge. She volunteered for nonprofits to create gender equality, to protect street children, and to empower youth and women – all experiences that now help her cope with a world turned upside down by Taliban rule. She’s repurposing her activism to create a secret school.

“I am a dreamer girl. I had many goals,” says the 22-year-old, who, like others quoted in this story, asked that her full name not be used due to risk of retribution. A year ago, she pictured herself becoming Afghanistan’s economy minister, possibly the first member of her Hazara ethnic minority to hold the post.

But then the darkness of Taliban rule came, swiftly extinguishing much of what Ms. F. and other activists thought was possible. Overnight, their visions for Afghanistan ran headlong into the Taliban’s radical interpretation of Islam, under which women are allowed little public role.

The abrupt American and NATO troop withdrawal last August brought a chaotic end to America’s longest-ever war, after 20 years. And while the Taliban takeover has yielded unaccustomed security – or at least a lack of war– the sudden end to billions of dollars in Western funds has contributed to a stark humanitarian crisis.

Fear of strict Taliban rule after a 20-year hiatus sparked a panicked exodus of tens of thousands of Afghans. And for many who stayed, like Ms. F., that fear turned to depression, as life suddenly felt restricted in every way. But Ms. F. and other “dreamers” and activists like her are navigating their way through these new realities, trying to identify creative solutions to the exacerbated challenges Afghans – and particularly women – face.

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