Dozens of women’s rights advocates and high-profile figures, including the poet Amanda Gorman, are calling on the Biden administration to protect and support Afghan women and girls.
In an open letter titled “Do Not Abandon Afghan Women and Girls”, Gorman, alongside the Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, actors Charlize Theron and Kate Winslet, and others, urged the administration to honor its commitment.
“Immediate action must be taken to safeguard Afghan women most at risk: women’s rights activists, journalists, educators, civil society leaders, human rights defenders and direct service providers. The very women who have been on the frontlines for decades, risking their safety to realize the promise of equal rights, are being abandoned by those who pledged to protect them,” it said.
The letter, organized by Vital Voices and Women International, demands the administration take four concrete steps: provide direct evacuation flights for women who are under imminent threat, expand special immigrant visas to include a category for at-risk women and raise the refugee cap, allocate resources for livelihood assistance and resettlement, and protect and invest in women who remain in Afghanistan.
Vital Voices, an NGO that works with female leaders on economic empowerment, women’s political participation and human rights, previously funded Gorman as a young activist.
The 2017 national youth poet laureate has been an outspoken champion of social justice causes, including women’s rights.
“As Afghanistan suffers, America has to take a long look at how we’ve perpetuated horror & how we can provide healing. We must welcome refugees & at last become the country we say we are,” Gorman tweeted on Tuesday. “Today is the day to take in the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
During the Taliban’s rule from 1996 to 2001, the group barred women from schools and most work, forced them to wear the burqa when they left home, and controlled their shoes and makeup.
Under the group’s narrow and repressive interpretation of Sharia law, many women were harshly punished for even minor transgressions. Punishments included stoning, whipping and killings.
This week, the Taliban said that women’s rights would be respected, “within the limits of Islam”. Nevertheless, many women have stayed at home in fear of being beaten for not covering up or for going out without a male guardian. In several parts of the country, reports of forced marriage to Taliban fighters have emerged following the Taliban takeover.
Over the last few days, female Afghan journalists have been trying to destroy traces of their identity as they receive death threats from the Taliban. Some reported that they had been visited by the Taliban already and had their houses searched.
“Nobody is supporting women journalists in Afghanistan. We are scared if the Taliban find us they will definitely kill us,” said one who was in hiding. “One more thing to mention – even if they let us live they will not let us go back to work, which is really a financial challenge for me as a woman that lives alone,” she added.
The Pentagon said on Thursday that about 7,000 civilians had been taken out of Afghanistan in the past five days, but the spokesperson John Kirby says the US military is still working towards its goal of getting a maximum of 5,000 to 9,000 people out a day.