Taking Myself out of the Darkness: Afghan Women Human Rights Defenders’ Fight for Recognition

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Afghan Women Human Rights Defenders Address Safety and Security Concerns, Mental Health and Barriers to Activism in New Groundbreaking Report

A new report from VOICE analyzes the realities facing displaced Afghan women human rights defenders in Afghanistan, bordering countries and western nations one year since the Taliban’s takeover

Across 80+ interviews with WHRDs, VOICE heard widespread incidents of domestic violence, rampant nepotism in the resettlement process and insufficient training for caseworkers

WORLDWIDE – Afghan women human rights defenders (WHRDs) who have been displaced since the Taliban takeover in 2021 are facing increasing barriers to their activism and safety and reporting widespread incidents of domestic violence, nepotism in the refugee resettlement process, insufficient training of caseworkers and no access to basic healthcare, a new groundbreaking report from VOICE details. The report, “Taking Myself out of the Darkness: Afghan Women Human Rights Defenders’ Fight for Recognition,” centers the voices of Afghan WHRDs in Afghanistan, the surrounding region and western nations and sheds light on WHRDs’ safety and security concerns, mental health and continued activism under Taliban rule.

To conduct the report, VOICE partnered with Afghan women’s organizations and women’s leaders to assess the safety and protection needs of displaced Afghan women engaged in advocacy and human rights work. VOICE’s research team conducted a total of 86 interviews with Afghan WHRDs across 20 countries, including: Afghanistan, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iran, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Spain, Sweden, Tajikistan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. The names of the WHRDs interviewed have been omitted from the report to protect their identities and security.

“Afghan women human rights defenders need support more than ever right now, yet the international community has done next to nothing to listen to and stand up for them,” said Yalda Royan, Afghanistan Technical Team Lead at VOICE. “Throughout our four weeks interviewing Afghan women, we heard incredible stories of bravery and activism under Taliban rule. We also heard that many of these women expect nothing from the humanitarian community after being left behind for so long. We hope our report is helpful in holding our global leaders accountable. Afghan women deserve to be heard.”

Key Findings Include:

  • Healthcare Access: Across VOICE’s interviews, not a single woman in Afghanistan reported having access to basic healthcare or reproductive health services.
  • Financial Aid and Other Supports: Only approximately one out of four WHRDs who remain in Afghanistan reported having access to any type of financial assistance, humanitarian aid, or psychosocial support; most had not received any support in accessing safe housing, medical assistance, or legal assistance.
  • Safety Risks by Caseworkers: Caseworkers who are unaware of contextual factors—especially the risks of domestic violence and honor killings for Afghan women and girls—are unknowingly putting many Afghan women and girls at risk.
  • Resettlement: WHRDs reported that nepotism and favoritism were rampant in the resettlement process and seemed to determine who would be prioritized for evacuation, which left many of the most at-risk women to fend for themselves. 42% of WHRDs interviewed reported they had not received any basic assistance in their resettlement journeys.
  • Violence Against WHRDs: Domestic violence was one of the highest concerns among WHRD interviewees within Afghanistan due to the increased restrictions on women’s movements outside of the home and the Taliban’s requirement of mahram, a male chaperone.
  • Activism: In response to their activism and efforts to speak out against the Taliban’s rule, WHRDs within Afghanistan are facing unprecedented insecurity and threats to their safety, with many reporting that they and others have been imprisoned, tortured and had their families targeted as a result of their engagement in protests.

While many WHRDs and their families were evacuated from Afghanistan immediately after the Taliban takeover due to heightened risks of gender-based violence, abuse and exploitation, many others have decided to stay and live under significant threat as they continue their activism. Adding to the vast challenges and uncertainty facing WHRDs who remain in Afghanistan is the humanitarian community’s failed response, including insufficient health and financial resources for WHRDs and a lack of training and widespread cultural ignorance regarding WHRDs’ safety risks by volunteers, officials and caseworkers on the ground.

The majority of Afghan WHRDs interviewed by VOICE agreed that the international community should refuse to recognize or negotiate with the Taliban and consult more with WHRDs on actions and strategies to promote Afghan women’s rights.

“[Women’s rights defenders] raise their voices and work without any external help or financial aid. There are many women [who] are either nowhere to be found, dead or captured by Taliban. Protection of human rights defenders is necessary so they can raise their voice and fight for the rights of Afghan women,” *an Afghan WHRD, who is currently in Pakistan, told VOICE. *

“The lack of support given to Afghan women and girls is one of the international community’s greatest humanitarian failures,” said VOICE Co-Founder and Executive Director Mendy Marsh. “After Afghan women spent two decades thinking they were part of a partnership with the U.S. and international community, to then be betrayed and left behind, it’s past time for our global leaders to listen to Afghan women and girls and empower them to drive solutions to this crisis.”

To support Afghan women, girls and WHRDs, the report outlines clear demands of the United Nations, international NGOs (non-governmental organizations), local governments and the greater humanitarian community, including:

  1. Exert political pressure on the Taliban to recognize and respect the rights of Afghan women and girls. UN actors and state leaders must refuse to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan and exert political pressure on those governments that recognize or provide support to the Taliban.
  2. Prioritize humanitarian and development programming that promotes women’s safety, security, and rights and centers women as partners. Afghan women, including members of ethnic minority groups, as staff and consultants— including in decision-making roles—should be employed across international projects in Afghanistan and in transit and resettlement countries.
  3. Ensure safe access to essential services and basic rights for all WHRDs displaced from Afghanistan. That includes developing culturally-appropriate, women- and girl-centered mechanisms that support survivors to confidentially and safely report instances of violence against women and girls.
  4. Provide opportunities for ongoing education and sustainable livelihoods for displaced WHRDs. Host governments, UN actors and NGOs should prioritize creating income generation and employment opportunities to allow displaced women to maintain their dignity, integrate into the community, earn a decent income, and leverage their expertise and talents.
  5. Prioritize and urgently expedite resettlement for Afghan WHRDs. In countries neighboring Afghanistan, local governments should improve mechanisms to process medical visas, due to the extreme challenges women face in accessing medical services in Afghanistan
  6. Support Afghan women’s and girls’ ongoing activism. UN actors, NGOs and donors must provide consistent, transparent, trust-based, accessible, and flexible funding and capacity support for Afghan civil society organizations, women’s rights organizations, feminist media outlets, and other WHRDs to ensure they can continue their advocacy for women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Detailed recommendations for region-wide action can be found starting on Page 44 of the report.


Source: VOICE