Afghan girl testifies to UN on life under Taliban: ‘We Are Like Slaves’

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A young girl living in Taliban-run Afghanistan provided the top UN rights body with rare, anonymous testimony from within the country on Tuesday describing a life of “slavery”.

Filmed from behind in front of a white screen, with only the black outline of her Muslim head covering visible, the girl identified as Laila recalled what it was like before the movement swept back to power nearly three years ago.

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Before that, women and girls “were free”, she said in the recording as the body met in Geneva to address the rights situation in the country.

“But now we are not free. We are like slaves.”

Afghan girls are like “birds with broken wings,” she said.

“They are still trying to fly, and they still want to find an opportunity and fly as... high as they can.”

Since returning to power in 2021, the Taliban government has used its austere interpretation of Islam to erode women’s rights, banning them from secondary schools, universities and some public spaces such as parks, and refusing to let them carry out certain types of work.

‘Gender-based apartheid’

The UN has described the situation in the country as “gender-based apartheid”.

The Taliban authorities have responded to international criticism by saying Afghanistan’s laws follow Islam and guarantee all citizens’ rights under sharia.

But Richard Bennett, the special rapporteur on the rights situation in Afghanistan, told the council Tuesday that the violations against women and girls were “so severe and extensive” that “they may amount to crimes against humanity”.

“The Taliban’s institutionalisation of its system of gender oppression should shock the conscience of humanity.”

Last year, the executive director of UN Women Sima Bahous warned that the situation was so dire that suicidal thoughts were “everywhere” for women in Afghanistan.

In her testimony, Laila said she knew several women who had taken their own lives after they were captured and badly beaten by men using the “excuse” that they were not wearing a “proper hijab”.

“I’m sure that it’s an excuse, because girls are really afraid. They always try to wear black, a scarf, black coat, everything,” she said.

Laila said she herself constantly worried what would happen if security forces captured her.

“Do they kill me?” she asked.

‘Will never give up’

In particular, she said she was “really worried about my future”.

After girls were banned from going to secondary schools, she has been stuck at home, helping her mother, learning to cook various dishes.

“This is not my future,” she insisted.

“I lost many opportunities in my life... I face depression and I feel helpless.”

But, she stressed, “I didn’t give up, and I will never give up”.

“I want to have a bright future. I want to become a leader. I want to become the voice of all Afghan girls.”

Laila stressed the urgent need for international support.

“I appeal to the international community, actually I beg them, to keep supporting the girls and women of Afghanistan, especially in education and work,” she said.

Shafiqa Khpalwak, an Afghan poet, writer, and rights activist living in exile, also pleaded for international action.

“In the eyes of the Taliban, we are nobody,” she told the council from the podium.

“We are not nobody,” she insisted.

“We continue to resist for our rights, and we ask you to stand with us and be on the right side of history.”

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