This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. Despite pledges of moderation and reform from some Taliban factions, over the last year they have reinstated many of the harshest policies from their 1990s emirate, pushing women out of public life and brooking no dissent. For many Afghans — especially women, girls and ethnic and religious minorities — the threat of violence looms over daily life. U.S. Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls and Human Rights Rina Amiri discusses how Afghans' lives have changed over the last year, what brave Afghan women are doing to protest the rollback of their rights, and how the United States and international community can help.
The Event Extra podcast offers one-on-one interviews with some of the policymakers, practitioners and leaders who spoke at U.S. Institute of Peace events. Each episode highlights their ideas on areas of conflict and how to achieve peace.
Adam Gallagher: Welcome, let me introduce us. You’re Rina Amiri, the U.S. special envoy for Afghan Women, Girls and Human Rights. And I'm Adam Gallagher, managing editor for USIP.org. This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Many expected that when they swept into power, the Taliban would reprise the repressive rule of the 1990s. Despite pledges of moderation and reform from some Taliban factions. One year later, those predictions have turned out to be prescient. They have swiftly reinstated many of their harshest policies pushing women out of public life and brooking dissent. Special Envoy Amiri, many of the hard-won gains made for Afghan women over the last 20 years are eroding before their eyes. Can you talk a little bit about how their lives have changed in the last year, and also what the picture is like for minorities and their rights?
Rina Amiri: Well, first, thank you very much, to you and to the U.S. Institute of Peace for continuing to keep the spotlight on the situation in Afghanistan. The last year has been nothing short of devastating for women, ethnic and religious communities. But I would say that for the population as a whole, I also hear from men, that, you know, that they're in a desperate situation. So it's, you know, it's a context in which is even more devastating, because I think that the population, what I hear over and over again, that, despite the tremendous devastation of war. Think how things have turned out. There is still some element of hope that the promise of a reform Taliban would materialize, and that they would be better than in the 1990s. And the last year, I think, has and many respects have been, the scenario that is far worse than any had had prepared themselves for, you know, for women and girls, I think that the whole world saw that overnight, they were stripped of their fundamental rights. You know, and of course, I want to qualify that. Certainly, the picture was very mixed. And that an urban centers, the women and girls had better opportunities, more advantages than those in the rural parts of the country. But when I talk to women, you know, from throughout the entire country, what I hear is devastation over the situation and that they've lost the right to work, they've lost the right to get their daughters educated, they have lost any sense of hope for the future. And for ethnic and religious communities, what they note is that they live under the shadow of threat. They don't feel safe in their communities, they don't feel safe in their homes. They don't feel safe sending their wives to give birth because of attack, the attacks on, terrible attacks that have taken place against maternity wards. They fear for their children when they send their children to school. That pervasive sense of threat is a shadow that has overtaken with their calculations and the way that they live their lives. And particularly for the Hazara community. You know, I read an assessment that there have been over 15 attacks. And it's not just the Hazara community as a religious community, but as an ethnic community where they are being specifically targeted and where they are, if they feel that they are being left as soft targets. And we hear the same thing from the Hindu and Sikh community, the Sufis, you know, just across the country of those that do not fit within the narrow confines of what the Taliban identifies as people that are aligned with what their view of the world that they are suffering tremendously right now.
Adam Gallagher: And yet over the last year, despite this sort of shadow of threat that looms over Afghan women and minorities, many have protested the Taliban rollback of their rights, including a demonstration over the weekend that was met with Taliban violence. I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about what you see Afghan women and minorities doing to protect in their promote and promote their rights amid this sort of terrifying landscape.
Rina Amiri: I think what the world needs to take away from what we have seen from the Afghan population is that they are not a -- you know, we see that there's a narrative around Afghans as victims, but Afghans, I think are the most resilient people in the world. And the most, you know, some of the most courageous people in the world. And certainly we have seen that demonstrated, and foremost among them, I would have to say, have been Afghan women. They, we have seen over and over again, despite the tremendously harsh crackdowns by the Taliban against not just the women but against their families, that they continue to go out and protest. And they're not just protesting for their rights. They're protesting for the vision that all Afghans aspire towards, which is a peaceful Afghanistan and inclusive one on one which one which is going to be economically viable. You know, I spent a lot of time talking to Afghans both inside and outside the country and online. And they tell me that this is not this is not just a choice for them, you know, that it's not that they're not fearful. But there are some things that are more important than fear. And that is what gives them the courage that they go out. And what they're fighting for is they're fighting for the children, they're fighting for the future of the country. You know, and there are a lot of painful stories that I come across, I come across women who say that, you know, up until, like, a year ago, there were judges, there were parliamentarians, there were doctors, and now they have to go through the indignity of, you know, they put on a burqa, and they go out and they're looking for, they're put in a position of being beggars. And they know that the Taliban are more prepared to provide support for them as beggars than allowing them to be agents of their own future. And as active agents in society where they can contribute to the to the economy of the country. They're also, you know, they're incredibly pragmatic. They're not, they're not looking at this as a black and white situation. Where they find Taliban that are positioned are prepared to engage with them and to create entry points for them to work to get or to do anything constructive. They're willing to work with those Talibs. So I think beyond the, what we, what I take away is that their vision is both defined by pragmatism, as well as principles and tremendous courage. And they want the world to understand that they are not victims, that they need our support. They need us to engage them as agents of their own future, and to look at a very targeted way of how we can support them, whether that's through diplomatic engagement with the Taliban, or otherwise, but that it should not just stop just because the Taliban are being resistant to any type of movement in a positive direction.
Adam Gallagher: Yeah, and that's a good segue into my final question. But I also just want to mention that I think that point about pragmatism is so important. And you have to wonder why the Taliban can't sort of reciprocate that pragmatism, understanding that they're hamstrung, hamstringing their own economy by shutting women out of public life in this way. But to go back sort of on what you were closing there, and I'm just wondering if you can expand a bit more on how the United States and the international community can help Afghan women and minorities in this really, really tough situation. And then also, I'm wondering if you can touch a little bit on the U.S.-Afghan consultative mechanism that was launched at USIP in late July.
Rina Amiri: I think that those that understand the situation of why this issue of women's rights and human rights are important, don't approach it just from a moral or normative perspective, but from a strategic perspective, that the role of women -- we have the data, we have the data from just really very compelling evidence from all over the world. But the best way, the most economically effective way, the one that doesn't require a large intervention in the future is one in which we equip women to advance the society. And that's where we're coming from, I think, it informs why, you know, our approach. And the U.S.-Afghan consultative mechanism -- one, that it should be Afghan women and civil society, Afghan voices that are at the forefront of this discussion. They, we will be capable of making much better policies if their voices are in the lead. If they guide our assessment, if they guide our understanding. Our policies are grounded in a solid understanding and a solid engagement strategy with Afghans themselves. We seek to use their voices, to profile their voices to bring them in, in a consistent and systematic way. With the U.S. government officials across the government sitting across from Afghan women leaders, human rights, the human rights community, civil society, as equal actors trying to work together on what the specific challenges and identify solutions to develop a coherent approach to systematically engaging them, rather than having one-off consultations with Afghan women and civil society that, where the impact might be lesser than something that's more systematic.
Adam Gallagher: Thank you so much, Special Envoy Amira, for joining us this week, during this sort of somber anniversary. We really appreciate your time.
Rina Amiri: Thank you very much.
Watch the original event Engaging Afghan Women and Civil Society in U.S. Policymaking.