Hoda Khamosh, and leader of the Afghanistan Women’s Movement for Justice, has been spearheading protests in the province of Parwan, north of Kabul, where dozens of women have been organising a protest for 8 March.
The prominent Afghan activist, who made the Time’s 2022 list of the 100 most influential people, said forced marriage has been widespread across the country but especially in the provinces, and “if they don’t accept it, they kill them”.
She told i: “The Taliban even offer to take young girls [in exchange] for food.”
According to a disturbing UN report, Afghan women are killing themselves at a rate of one or two per day due to the lack of opportunity and desperation caused by their shrinking freedom.
Ms Khamosh, who was forced to leave her home in Parwan after receiving threats from the Taliban, said the protests leading up to International Women’s Day began on Tuesday, when three people were injured after the Taliban allegedly attacked them with a car.
“Is it better to die or to die with the dreams you worked for?” asks 27-year-old.
“They violate us and kill us. And the world just watches,” the activist added.
Speaking from Oslo, Norway, Ms Khamosh said the international community should not celebrate the “fragile” moment Afghan women are going through but instead “offer condolences, because we are experiencing gradual death”.
Women’s freedom in Afghanistan, which has been ravaged by 20 years of war, has been drastically curtailed since the militant group regained control of the country after the chaotic withdrawal of US troops in August 2021.
Women have been banned from school and university, despite their male counterparts being able to access education.
The ban prompted many aid agencies to partially suspend operations in the midst of a humanitarian crisis unfolding during the cold winter months.
Ms Khamosh called on the international community to help in the removal of the regime as she accused them of being responsible for “bringing the Taliban” to Afghanistan.
“”No country in the world can or wants to be ruled by terrorists. So why are they trying to impose on us?”
Lessons for ‘abandoned at home’ girls
An educational programme known as Darakht-e-Danesh and which is run by Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan), has been defying the Taliban rule to provide classes to about 100 girls in Afghanistan via live remote teaching.
The teachers of the secondary age students are almost all Afghans working from undisclosed locations outside the country. They teach the country’s curriculum, along with English and computer classes, Murwarid Ziayee, senior director of CW4WAfghan, told i.
The programme, which has been running in-person classes for two decades with the aim of educating Afghan girls, aims to find alternative educational paths for those who have been “abandoned at home” in this period.
“Everything is banned, there is no way of running a centre anywhere in Afghanistan,” Ms Ziayee said as she explained how children log on to classes from a laptop at home to minimise the risk of being caught.
Ms Ziayee said the educational ban is having a “huge impact” on Afghan girls and women, from an academic and professional point of view as well as an emotional one.
“There will be a generation of illiterate and uneducated in the future in Afghanistan which will drag down the country.”
One student, named only as Zainab, told i she felt “very fortunate” to be able to attend the classes and have “every day” access to lessons.
“I wish such an opportunity could be provided to every girl who is not able to continue her studies due to the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education,” she said.
‘What is the point of staying alive’
Ms Ziayee said she has been reading reports of teenagers committing suicide in different parts of the country as they have “no hope”.
She said children have been left feeling “useless” and thinking: “What is the point of staying alive if your right to education has been denied…”
She called on all organisations who have the capacity to help to “show a light to those children who don’t have anything to do” with what happened in the country.
The Taliban have in the past said they respect women’s rights in line with their interpretation of Islam and Afghan culture and that they plan to open schools in future once they establish certain conditions for girls. A spokesperson for the Taliban did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Additional reporting by agencies