Afghanistan: “Afghan women know that if we stay quiet, our rights will never be restored”, says Lailuma Sadid, an Afghan journalist exiled in Belgium

Lailuma Sadid is an Afghan journalist and a political refugee due to the threats that she received from the Taliban for her journalistic work. She has been living in Belgium for more than a decade and is a correspondent at the Brussels Morning newspaper. Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan one year ago, Sadid has been working with Afghan women and has become their voice, raising awareness of their situation in Europe and beyond.

Credit: Lailuma Sadid

IFJ. One year has passed since your appeal to NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, in which you asked him: “please, don’t recognise the Taliban and don’t put us again in the same situation”. What will you tell him today, one year after the Taliban takeover?

If I had the opportunity to attend a NATO press conference today, I would say to the Secretary General and everyone present in the room: “you forgot Afghanistan and the Afghan people”. The international pull-out of Afghanistan was badly organised, and Afghan people are the ones suffering its consequences, particularly women. The Taliban have removed women from society, relegating them to private space, and they have closed schools for girls, forcing them to stay at home. If I had the opportunity, I would like to ask the international community how they feel about the threats that Afghan women are facing.

I would also warn them not to commit the same mistake in other countries. When you sign a peace agreement, like the United States did with the Taliban in February 2020, you must involve the entire society. Signing a peace agreement with a terrorist group is unacceptable, and Afghan people are facing terrible consequences because of it. We must not forget that the Taliban are not the only terrorist group in Afghanistan. There is also Al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network, which are both blacklisted in the United States and Europe. And the fight against them has not ended yet. There is still fighting in some provinces such as Panjshir and Baghlan, and women are organising actions of resistance to fight for their rights. Afghan people must be supported! 

IFJ. How would you describe the current situation in Afghanistan?

One year later, I see that there is no hope for the future - the dark days have come back. The situation is getting worse every day. Some weeks ago, the Taliban sent a letter to  women who were still working warning them not to come to the office and to send a man to replace them. If women, who are half of the Afghan society, are being erased from the political, economic, social and public sphere, it is impossible to be optimistic about the future. 

IFJ. Several groups are at risk under Taliban rule such as journalists, human rights’ defenders, women and those who oppose the regime. What are the most pressing needs for them? 

Humanitarian aid and evacuations are the most pressing needs. However, humanitarian aid must not end in the hands of the Taliban because they are only distributing it among their supporters. We need international organisations that work independently, and ensure  that the Taliban do not receive funds for humanitarian support. Another important point is not to focus all the humanitarian assistance in Kabul, and take into account the rest of the provinces.

Of course, evacuations are still needed. It is essential to help evacuate women and men who are under threat. There are many collectives at risk in the country, such as journalists, activists, artists, workers of the former government, women in general and everyone who dares to oppose the regime. The international community must not forget them.  

IFJ. Female journalists are a target of Taliban violence for being women and working as journalists. What threats  are they facing on a daily basis?

Before August 15, 2021 we had more than 10.000 people working in the media, and around 3.000 of them were women. At present, there are only around a hundred women working in the media in Afghanistan, and some journalists say that the number is even smaller. It is challenging to be a journalist because there is no freedom to work, and it is even harder for women. They are barred from covering events; they are not given access to information, and sometimes they are even prevented from going to their offices. Some months ago the Taliban issued a decree obliging female journalists that appear on TV to cover their faces, only leaving visible their eyes. 

The Taliban are flooding news bulletins in Afghanistan with their propaganda. So it is difficult for Afghan citizens and the outside world to know what is happening. They are also cutting off the internet from time to time. We only know about some of the killings and detentions that are taking place in the country. 

Women journalists are facing many threats but, at the same time, women journalists, activists, human rights’ defenders and others are the ones leading the resistance and fighting for their rights. Although they are risking their lives, women are not staying quiet. Hundreds of them have been arrested and many killed by the Taliban, but they say they will not give up until their rights are restored. 

IFJ. You have been working tirelessly to shed light on the situation of Afghan women, to bring it to the attention of the international community. How is your activist work going and how is the moral of the activists in Afghanistan? 

We work through WhatsApp’ and Signal’ groups to be discreet. Women in Afghanistan are really afraid because they know that their actions can entail terrible consequences. They cannot go out of their homes without a male guardian and they cannot protest against the Taliban. Women are organising themselves from their own rooms. We draft slogans, send letters to the UN and leaders of the international community, and shed light on the injustices happening in the country. I know it is not enough, but there is not another way to support them than raising awareness of the situation. I hope that the international community can help them to stay strong and raise their voices. 

Many women activists have been beaten, arrested and abused by the Taliban. Some of them cannot stay in their homes because they fear the Taliban will arrest them and they change places every day. And even in these terrible conditions, they are fighting because this is the only way to restore their rights. The international community must evacuate women who are under the Taliban threat. 

IFJ. You were once a political refugee because of the threats you received for your journalistic work in Afghanistan. At present, you are receiving threats for your activist work, standing against the Taliban regime. How are you coping with the situation?

I am not the only female journalist receiving these threats and, if I compare myself with my colleagues in Afghanistan who are targeted by the Taliban, I cannot stay silent. Throughout these 20 years of war, I have lost more than 35 people in my family. However, I am not going to stay quiet. Afghan women know that if we stay quiet, our rights will never be restored.

I really see a change in this new generation of women, who are stronger and braver. They are fighters. And we must support them.  

IFJ. How can people abroad help Afghan citizens? 

People must not close their eyes to what is happening in Afghanistan, and they must listen to Afghan people. To support the Afghan people it is necessary to urge our governments to evacuate citizens in danger and send international observers to report on what is going on on the ground. 

On another level, governments should not recognise the Taliban. It is shocking for me that the government of the United States signed a peace agreement with a terrorist organisation. Do they really believe the promises of the Taliban? Were they so naive to believe that they have changed? Criticising the Taliban today could easily entail being arrested and even being assassinated. Governments should not legitimise the Taliban. The Russian invasion of Ukraine led to several actions from the international community, and I have not seen any towards the regime in Afghanistan. How many more deaths does the international community need to act? Now it is time to stop talking and start acting. We do not want to remain under Taliban rule for an additional year.

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