International 26/08/2021

No country assumes responsibility for the evacuation of Afghan women MPs

Most of them are still in Kabul even though their lives are in danger

3 min
Taliban fighters patrol Kabul streets

BarcelonaUntil four days ago they were considered the best example of how much Afghanistan had changed over the last few years with the presence of international troops. Now, however, no one remembers them. They are the women members of the Afghan Parliament. After the fall of the Taliban regime, the international community pushed for the new Afghan Constitution, adopted in 2004, to establish that a quarter of the seats in the lower house be reserved for women. As a result, in the last 15 years women have held 25 per cent of the seats. Despite this, with the collapse of the government and the return of the Taliban, no country has bothered or taken responsibility for evacuating Afghan women MPs. Most of them, about fifty, are still in Kabul, scared to death. They are familiar faces who, in many cases, have stood up for women's rights.

"I don't know what the Taliban will do with us", says one of them, who has been a member of parliament for three years and asks that her name not be published for obvious reasons. She says she has contacted a lot of embassies for help but none, except one, has yet replied. "They called me about two or three days ago and said they would get back to me, but they haven't. I don't know which embassy it was. I'm so upset I don't even remember". And rightly so. According to her, the Taliban have stolen her car and she has had to leave her home and look for another place to stay so that they can't find her. "Of course I am in contact with the rest of MPs. We are all the same", she says.

In fact, this is confirmed by another member of parliament who has been in her seat for ten years and who also answers the phone from Kabul. She can't speak English, so her brother translates for her and answers this reporter's questions. "She cries day and night", he says. "She needs help urgently". As he explains, the Taliban have also stolen her car - an armoured vehicle in which she was travelling around Kabul - and attacked her house. She has had to take refuge elsewhere.

"I am so scared. Please help me get out of the country as soon as possible", she pleads. Her brother adds: "Time is running out". US President Joe Biden on Tuesday reaffirmed his decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan on 31 August, which will force a halt to evacuation flights. US troops are providing security at Kabul airport, which is currently the only way out of the country. All borders are closed.

Families boarding a US military flight to be evacuated from Kabul.

The international indifference towards the women MPs is such that one of them, who did manage to leave Afghanistan, is the one who is moving heaven and earth to help her colleagues. She also wants to remain anonymous because, she justifies, part of her family has remained in Kabul. "I have been evacuated, but not because I am a member of parliament, but because I am an activist and I have worked for women's associations", she says. On Monday she landed in Washington and the first thing she did was to draw up a list of all the women MPs who have stayed behind in the Afghan capital. In total there are fifty of them, plus their next of kin, their husbands and children. In short, it would mean evacuating at least 200 people.

The Afghan Parliament, in an archive image.

"I had a political rivalry with many of them, but I can't leave them like that", says the Washington-based MP. In fact, unity never characterised the women MPs in Afghanistan in recent years - quite the opposite. Most of the time they argued. Many of them stood for election, not because they had political convictions, but because they wanted a good salary. Or because they wanted to escape from a stifling family situation. For instance, some admitted that their husbands beat them or that they had run for office to avoid a forced marriage. Getting into the lower house guaranteed them money and often armed security. Now they have been left with nothing.

The congresswoman in Washington laments that, like everyone else trying to flee Afghanistan, she too had to push her way into Kabul airport, sleep on the floor until she was evacuated and not wash for days. She had no privileges despite being a political representative.