Just under three weeks before the Taliban reached Kabul and took control of アフガニスタン, 50 of the most powerful women in the country gathered outdoors in a shady spot to discuss how to deal with the approaching danger.
Wearing colourful headscarves, some took notes while others listened intently to Fawzia, 48, one of the most senior female judges in Afghanistan. Holding a microphone, she spoke with urgency about the advancing threat and the need to protect the rights that female lawyers, women’s rights activists and journalists had spent decades fighting for.
But they had no idea quite how quickly their precious freedoms were going to be lost.
Fawzia and her family escaped from Afghanistan via Tbilisi, ジョージア, after the main Operation Pitting airlifts had concluded. They are now being accommodated in a hotel in London under Arap, the UK government’s Afghan relocations and assistance policy.
Unlike asylum seekers, the Afghan families are treated more like tourists or business travellers. They are also not constrained by burly security guards standing with folded arms in front of the hotel entrance.
Fawzia, her lawyer husband and their four children – aged 18, 16, 11 and nine – say they are very grateful for the sanctuary that has been offered them, and the British government has been very kind.
But they do not know what the future holds. Like other Afghans brought to safety, they have been granted six months’ leave to remain in the UK. Details of what will happen after that are not known.
Fawzia is energetically networking with other female Afghan judges and human rights defenders in exile, along with prominent female lawyers in the UK such as Helena Kennedy, to try to secure a safe exit for those who have not yet managed to escape. She is becoming increasingly anxious about the female judges still stranded in Afghanistan. She believes that while hundreds have escaped, 93 remain there.
“The situation for these women is getting worse all the time," 彼女が言います.
News that eligibility criteria for the Arap scheme are tightening fills her with dread, and she is urging international governments to do more to rescue women still in hiding in her home country. “We must ensure they can be brought to safety.”
Fawzia says she has parents to thank for inspiring her to aim high and fight for what she believes in. Her father was a successful scientist with his own factory and the family lived in a large and comfortable home in Kabul.
“When the タリバン was in control of everything the first time in the 1990s I did not leave our home for five years. It was a dark and sad time – women and girls lost all their rights," 彼女が言います. “I spent my time studying and growing vegetables like tomatoes and peppers in the garden.”
Her parents emphasised the importance of girls getting a good education and a career. “By the time I was eight or nine years old I knew I wanted to be a lawyer," 彼女が言います. “My mother’s advice to me for when I was grown up was: stand on your own two feet, don’t stand on your husband’s feet.”
After qualifying as a judge, Fawzia worked with her government’s ministry of women’s affairs and introduced groundbreaking protections for women and girls including safe houses for women so they could escape from violent husbands, and protections against forced and child marriages.
Although life in Kabul after the Americans and the British drove the Taliban out after 9/11 offered more opportunities to women, things were still very dangerous for women like Fawzia who challenged the status quo.
“All the time I was in danger in my work," 彼女が言います. “And so were the women I was trying to help. One time a violent man came to the court with a gun to shoot his wife who was trying to get justice for things he had done to her. As he pointed the gun at his wife I hit his hands to direct the gun away from his wife. The bullet missed her and she survived.
“Another time I was in the car with one of my children who was just six months old. Some people tried to kidnap my baby. I hid her under the seat to save her.
“Everything is lost for women in Afghanistan," 彼女が言います. “The situation for them is much worse now than it was soon after the Taliban took over.”
She is determined to continue raising her voice for her sisters who are in peril just as she did in Afghanistan. Her focus is on building the international network to support the women left behind.
For her family’s future in London she is hopeful and optimistic. “In Kabul we lived in a big house. But now it doesn’t matter if we have a big house or a small house. For the first time since the Taliban took over Afghanistan I felt safe and slept well when we arrived in the UK. Here we can start again.”