Dispatches from Afghanistan: The future of women in a fallen nation

Dark days for the beautiful, bleeding country

“Life's so precious when you're standing in the firing line.”

-          Joss Stone, singer/songwriter

Afghanistan has been burned alive by bitterness, geography, invasion, and ethnic grievances for more than decades. But watching in plunge from a place imbued with some semblance of gender equality, right to education and dress code freedom to a land-living akin to centuries ago.

There are subsequently many with a lot to lose, but none more than the girls and women.

A public sphere is no longer a place for women. Yet should she step out, it must always be alongside a male companion. But the right to move freely is not all that the women of Afghanistan – many of the younger generation who know nothing but education, art and dress freedom – are not the only thing that the women have lost. They have officially now lost their educations, their language lessons, their voices, and their sights free from the blue netting that hovers over the eyes.

And even for the men, there will be no music permitted, little laughter and entertainment after dark.

I texted with a friend, a bubbly law student by the name of Farida who boasts a beautiful collection of scarves every color of the rainbow, as she wept – the brevity of the situation sinking in.

“I cannot believe it,” she sobs, reeling off her prized law degree offer letter that will likely end up in the wastepaper basket.

Given its long history of sour conflict, it can be said that even a heavy U.S footprint was merely slapping a band-aid over a bullet wound. But as I stand in the middle of the madness, in a country besieged by bloodletting and fear, I cannot help but question if that bandage really needed to be ripped off.

Would a few thousand, permanent contingency of non-combat troops have provided enough of a security blanket to at least stave off the slaughter while the roots of problems were worked on?

We will now never know.

After all, few could have imagined in their wildest dreams how dizzyingly fast the country would contract into an Islamic State, which legislated the severing of hands for those accused of stealing and the stoning of those determined to have committed adultery.

Displaced Afghan girl, by Jacob Simkin @jakesimkinphoto

I have many additional thoughts on how and why the Taliban took power once again, but let’s save the political conundrum for another day.

This is the old, new Afghanistan and the likely future for generations of women to come.

I recognize that I have the privilege to leave, and I realize how many of my Afghan sisters would give away their most precious things to live with the freedom I so often take for granted.

And as I reflect from my own vantage point, lying low by candlelight in a burning country, I think back to what an Afghan friend told me years ago sipping tea on a frosty New York afternoon.

“When those we love die, we grieve, and we mourn, and we cry for 40 days,” he explained. “And on the 41st day, we start our lives over again, and we save our tears.”

Only this grief of the decades spent in blood and treasure will take a long time – if ever – to recover.

I have visited many places in my life, but I have never fallen in love with a place the way I fell in love with Afghanistan. The Afghan people are my light on dark days.

My heart is broken.

Please consider a paid subscription to allow me to continue to do this work.

Share The World of War, Crimes + Crises with Hollie McKay

Give a gift subscription