The Female Creatives of Afghanistan

Freedom is being drip fed back into daily lives for the majority of people as restrictions from the pandemic gradually ease across the globe. Being isolated and locked down is mostly past tense; haunting us only every so often when Covid cases spike and threaten the fragile ascension into the ‘new normal’. I recently posted on my social media about how amazing it felt to be able to do journalism again during the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. I then returned to work in London for a content marketing day in the office with fellow creatives, which felt like a tonic to me after 18 months of mostly home working. But what about the female creatives in Afghanistan? What becomes of the journalists who are violently punished for merely doing their job? Or the female workers who reshaped the workforce of Afghanistan by being educated, opening businesses and boasting skilled professions and are now told they should not leave their homes at all? Reports of female professionals being murdered for doing their jobs haunt me as I enjoy my physical return to work and a near normal life. 

As holidays commence and people revel in a vaccine led emancipation, Afghanistan is demoted to the destruction that the country has been working so hard to overcome for decades. Joe Biden’s presidency may still be in its infancy yet his impact has already made history after his decision to remove American troops from Afghanistan. The abrupt absence of western military saw an eerily quick take over by the Taliban. The Taliban claim to have evolved in their draconian beliefs, yet reports of oppression, torture, harsh punishments and extreme misogyny tell a drastically different story. 

It is my conviction that no part of the world can consider itself a cohesive or progressive society as long as this horror story is still unfolding in Afghanistan. 

In order to illuminate the situation I interviewed Zara who is a brave, talented artist living in Afghanistan. Zara has had to stop working in her art shop as it is no longer considered safe to do so under Taliban rule. I asked her the following questions and was compelled by her resilience, intellect and outlook despite living in such a hostile environment. Interviewing Zara made me feel helpless as I wish I could do something to change the horror many people around the world face, but it also left me feeling hopeful as determination and insight like Zara’s is what I believe will transcend conflict and create change in the world over time.   

What has life been like since the Taliban have taken over?  

‘It’s like a nightmare that we wish would end, yet it continues, and each event is worse than the last! Everyone is tired. They have caused so much anxiety and distress that we have neither sleep nor an appetite in addition to not going out and hiding ourselves at home. Work and social activities have ceased; no one can continue activities for human rights or women and children’s rights. 

There are no rights for minorities and they are now under threat. The Taliban want all people to be formed within their narrow-minded ideals that they are implementing by force, and thus destroying freedom, growth and creativity. Women are thought of as second class citizens.

Many businesswomen and even businessmen have closed their businesses and moved to another country. Everything around us has come crashing down and it is very painful to see this destruction of a nation right in front of your own eyes. I am sorry that my country does not accept me and it is not a safe place for me to be who I am, to grow here and be a source of progress for this country. Opportunities of progress are being destroyed.  

You’re a very talented artist! Will you be able to continue your art? 

Thanks! No, I cannot! Painting and face drawing, sculpture, tattooing, nail arts and other kinds of arts that I do are (Haram) is forbidden in their strict Islam. Secondly, because women have already played a minor role in our society, most of our customers are men, and that would be problematic for me as I would be seen as a bad woman if I were to continue working. I closed my café, art workshop, art classes and stationery shop due to safety concerns, and continuing to do so would pose serious risks to me and my family.

What can people in other parts of the world do to help Afghanistan? 

In this urgent and unexpected situation, Afghans are in dire need of help and guidance. It is helpful to raise awareness and inform people about what is happening here. Supporting and joining organisations that are trying to help Afghanistan can be an effective way of doing this. 

I believe in prevention over cure and Afghanistan is a clear example of the misery and war-torn parts of the earth where a situation like this should have been prevented. Sadly, many countries are suffering because of war, ignorance and poverty. How can such things happen in today’s world, with so much progression when it comes to human understanding and communication systems etc?! The earth is really in serious danger. Each individual must contribute to its improvement through a SINGLE set of human rights for the WHOLE WORLD. We know that the whole earth is like a body, and if something happens to one of its organs, it affects the other organs. So no one is excused in this and everyone is responsible. 

Each person must be protected by basic human rights to ensure world peace, environmental protection and so on. Why should there be an opportunity for a group to influence their personal or religious thoughts and beliefs by force and overcome global laws, or be able to use the force of war, killing and ultimately punish the whole world with that? No group should be able to behave like that. It’s heart-breaking and embarrassing! My dream is a single set of basic rules and human rights that applies to every person in the world. Afghanistan, with all its resources, fertile soil and young workforce has become a battlefield and it needs peace and basic human rights for all in order to prosper.

What do you think the future hold for female workers in Afghanistan?

In the past, the problems of Afghan women were extreme and their progression was hindered, but now it is even worse than before and we can clearly say that any progression has stopped. The restrictions put on women and their normal activities means the elimination of half of society, which is very destructive and the consequences will be irreparable, like what happened in Afghanistan twenty years ago and we are still suffering now. 

Also, in our country, there was a lack of job diversity, especially for women. Many artistic occupations such as modelling, singing/music, make-up, drawing and so on, which have always been looked down on, will now be completely banned.

Women are now expected to stay at home and get married at an early age, not go out alone without a man and not to be educated. “Women can be in society and work, but within the framework of the Shari’a (Islamic rules)” is what the Taliban say, but I think the framework is so strict that it may be impossible for women to fit in at all. I don’t really know, maybe there are women who can be but it is completely inconceivable to me.’

You can find ways to support the conflict in Afghanistan by contacting, or donating to, the following organisations: 

https://www.afghanaid.org.uk/

https://www.savethechildren.org/us/where-we-work/afghanistan

and further information on how to help Afghanistan can be found in this article: https://time.com/6090921/how-to-help-afghanistan-people/  

Rebekah Sawyers

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