Afghan women desperate to escape Taliban rule: ‘We don’t know how long we can hide’

Afghan women desperate to escape Taliban rule: ‘We don’t know how long we can hide’

November 6, 2021: Maryam Said Anwar’s says her body still bears the scars from the beatings with a screwdriver she endured at the hands of her husband. Forced to marry when she was 13, Anwar says she was drugged, beaten and tortured by her husband. “Even as l lay full of pain and blood on the ground, he would hit my face and remove my nails with heavy-duty pliers.”

She fled after six years with her three young children — a newborn, 2 and 4 at the time — moving from place to place to hide from her spouse. But when the Taliban took power in Afghanistan last summer, her fears skyrocketed; now she feared not just being beaten but being killed. A woman who left her husband, she says, would be executed by the Taliban if discovered.

The Taliban interpretation of Shariah, Islamic law, forbids women from leaving their houses without a male escort, says Obed Benjamin Rod, an Afghan Canadian pastor in Hamilton who is helping Afghan women escape the country. That means women who live without a man in the house or work outside their homes are breaking Taliban laws, some of them punishable by death.

Two women Rod is helping are sisters Sara and Shabnam Saljughi, aged 18 and 21. In tears, the young women pleaded over the phone from a safe-house in Afghanistan: “We don’t know how long we can hide,” said Shabnam. “Help us save our lives.”

The pair, who are Christian, fled their father in Mazarsharif a year ago when he tried to marry them to Taliban fighters. Last month Taliban soldiers entered their apartment looking for “infidels,” and the sisters hid with an upstairs neighbour. “I was so scared we had left a Bible in the house,” says Shabnam. They believe their father had told the Taliban to kill them.

Female students living without a male guardian in Afghanistan are very vulnerable, says Shabnam and Sara’s uncle, Shoaib Asadullah of Mississauga. Asadullah was sentenced to death in Afghanistan in 2011 because of his Christian activism. He was released with the help of Canadians and now lives in Canada. But his notoriety in Afghanistan made the sisters’ status even more dangerous. It was difficult for them even to find a place to live.

“They were facing persecution before the Taliban, but now with the Taliban it is much worse.”

Zahra Furmoly, a former TV journalist and senior producer for Radio Television Afghanistan in Kabul, struggles to share her fears from her hospital bed in Pakistan. Furmoly, who fled death to the neighbouring country, says she’s still in danger because she doesn’t have a male escort and worries how her family will survive without her income. Her brother is dying of cancer and his wife and three children rely on her.

Read this article as it originally appeared in Toronto Star on November 6, here.

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