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"In front of our eyes, they beat my sister"

Content warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of violence against women.

So many have asked me about the plight of women in Afghanistan. I am not going to cite statistics. I am not going to cite numbers. I will however re-tell the story of my sister-in-law who just relayed this to me. In her own words.

It was about 3am on a cold Afghanistan morning. My family and I lived in a small village in the province of Herat. I was about five years old. We heard loud banging and then I heard screams.

My sisters and I ran into the living room. We feared the worst, especially as my father was away on a work trip, and we felt even more vulnerable. We had heard about how local militia groups would barge into homes trying to kidnap young men or worse, kill them if they were not able to meet their demands.

My mother told my brothers to flee. And flee they did, by the time the militia group had barged into our home, broken the door and all that was in their path, my brothers had left via the backyard.

Several men stormed into our home – there were so many, I couldn’t count them – there were at least 20 of them. They were holding machine guns and had masks over their mouths – all we could see were their eyes. I had never seen my mother look so terrified as she did that night.

What unfolded in the next 30 minutes or so will forever be etched in my memory.

My mother, assuming, they were there for my brothers told them she had no sons. She pleaded with them not to hurt her and young daughters.

“We are not here to take your men,” they declared.

Turning their attention to my 20-year-old sister, they yelled that they had warned her many times – “How dare she continue to teach at the local school!” While there were women who were teachers in other provinces, in the small village we lived in Herat, my sister was one of a few female teachers. Little had we realised that their taunts and threats passed on to us via random people were in fact real. Could this really be happening?

There in front of our eyes, they beat my sister so hard. Trying to drag her out the door, my mother pleaded with them to not take her. She offered herself up and told them to take her instead.

“No,” they screamed, they needed to ‘teach women a lesson that this behaviour was unacceptable!’.

The screams, the yelling, the chaos. It was indescribable.

My sisters and I, aged between five to 14 years old, watched on in complete shock and horror.

It’s like time had stood still. I was screaming but it felt like no noise was coming out.

That was the last time we saw my sister. To this day, we do not know whether she is dead or alive.

No police or other government authorities were able to do anything in the days, months and years that followed.

About two years later, my father passed away, leaving my mother to look after all of us on her own.

My 40-year-old sister, who witnessed it all that night, is still living in Herat with her young family.

Offering her reassurance over the phone is all I can do for her.

I fear for her safety. I fear that she too could be forever taken from us. She knows all too well just what the Taliban is capable of.

Such is the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan. In the past three months alone, 900,000 people have been displaced. Many of these are women and children. What are our leaders doing to make sure this doesn’t become the fate of more women in Afghanistan?

This article was first published on BroadAgenda on 17 August 2021. Words and photos by2016 Daily Life Woman of the Year, Mariam Veiszadeh, a lawyer, diversity and inclusion consultant, contributing author and social commentator. She was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, but had to flee in 1988.

BroadAgenda is Australia’s leading research-based gender equality media platform, published by the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation.

A note from Ginger Gorman, BroadAgenda’s editor: Do not look away. To read more about the way women and children are treated by the Taliban please read this piece and this piece, published in The Conversation.

And if you can, give generously to Mariam’s campaign on behalf of the UN Refugee Agency – Australia for UNHCR.

Photo depicts The Female Experimental High School in Herat. The World Bank Photo Collection is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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