In 2021, twenty years after deploying to Afghanistan, the United States began withdrawing troops and personnel, with a planned deadline to fully evacuate by August 31. In mid-August, Taliban fighters entered and swiftly overtook the country’s capital, Kabul, sowing fear across the nation and abroad. On August 24, despite claims that women would maintain the freedom to work and seek education, the Taliban issued a “temporary” policy, urging women to remain at home. A Taliban spokesman explained the move as safety measure meant to protect women from troops who may not have been trained not to hurt them.
From the time I was very young, I remember my government telling women that we have rights and freedoms—that they were here to provide us safety so we could grow up and give back to society. Because of that, I always wanted to study politics: I planned to get the best education I possibly could and then use what I learned to help my country.
Now I don’t know what I will do.
My name is Halima. I’m 21 years old, in my sophomore year of college. Less than two weeks ago, I watched Kabul be taken by the Taliban from my dormitory in Colorado. I haven’t been home for two years, since before the pandemic. I can’t eat or sleep; I’m messing up my classes. I’ve been calling off work because I feel so frightened and depressed. It’s too hard to go about your day when you’re worried that you might never see your family again.
I was born in a small village and moved to Kabul in first grade. There, I received a scholarship to go to a local school, which is supported by Americans. My whole life, I’ve been told that the United States was here to help Afghans rise, to protect us, to facilitate progress, especially women; over the past two decades, many Afghan women have been able to advance as opportunities opened up. We’ve become college professors and members of the government, whatever we wanted. But now it feels like we’re going back to zero. Back to before where we started.
In the news and on social media, I see people saying that nothing has changed since the Taliban took power, that there aren’t any new restrictions and everything is normal. But that’s not true at all.
It’s like my memories are being erased. Like we’re all just bodies, floating through through the days.
Let me tell you what has changed: Before this, my older sister could work. She could go out alone—to do errands or to exercise—because she counted as a person. Now, a man needs to accompany her everywhere.
My friends are so, so scared. In the group chat with all my former classmates, the messages are frantic. Everyone is trying to figure out what they should wear in order to be safe, how to behave in order to satisfy a bunch of radicals. I spoke with my younger cousin on the phone—a girl who has always had big dreams—and do you know what she told me? “We have to accept that women have to stay home and do nothing. It’s over.” Hearing that broke my heart.
Our family is also in danger because my siblings and I attended American schools and have worked with Americans. My parents have never cared about politics. All they want to do is take care of us. But right now, they can’t protect us. This week, my brothers gathered up all the books in our collection, all their art supplies and paints—to sell, or burn—because we don’t know what could happen if someone from this new regime discovered those items in our home.
So maybe for Americans in Kabul, things might seem normal. But that’s not the case for Afghan men and women. It’s like the U.S. thought, “Screw this, we’re done caring about you and your future. We’re going to leave and let the people we came here to remove take over.”
I feel homeless. Like my culture and my memories are being erased. Like we’re all just bodies, floating through the days, because our way of life has ended. Like the people we thought were our friends have betrayed us. And now our only choice is to wait and see what we already believe will unfold.
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