Afghan minority activist in Pakistan speaks about his former work
Advocacy work can be very loud, creating headlines, marking a history to be remembered for years to come. It can also be a more subtle but persistent quiet effort seen in positive smaller changes, no less effective or needed. Many minority activists in Afghanistan come from very humble beginnings but with an incredible drive to create a better, more equal, safe, and inclusive life for their communities. Their work is less known, and it is this obscurity which makes them one of the most vulnerable targets of the new regime in Kabul. This low visibility may also mean that international partners are less motivated to support them in their new context. This is about ordinary people who did extraordinary things and found themselves without the expected lifeline of support when tables turned against them. One minority rights activist opens up about his subtle effort which nevertheless captured the attention of the Taliban.
I remember, when I was about 11 years old, English language and computer knowledge were much-needed skills to get a job with an organization. My father was the sole provider for our family – my mother, my seven brothers and my sister – working as a street watch mechanic. He did not earn enough to support my education. It was my mother who encouraged me to study and supported me throughout. To cover my study fees, I used to sell water in the Bazaar and tomatoes and potatoes on the street.
Following the completion of my secondary education, I was admitted to a private university. And again, it was mother who supported me until I was awarded a full four-year scholarship on the basis of my high grades. The education paid off, and after graduating, I worked for two organizations in my locality. The first one focused on women and youth empowerment and capacity building for teenage girls to participate in the democratic process of our country. The second focused on election observation and women’s participation, women’s empowerment, promoting girls’ education, women and girls’ health and other related human welfare issues.
After moving to Kabul, I got a job in resource mobilization and fundraising for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), family planning, elimination of early marriage for girls, pre-marital counselling, HIV/AIDs prevention, community outreach, midwives’ involvement in SRHR services provision and commodities provision at a community level for vulnerable women. I also established a youth-led organization based on peer-to-peer training in partnership with an international youth-led network. Our first meeting involved some friends sitting on the street with one pen and one notebook taking notes.
Long but successful lobbying helped us to get access to a room in an organization and start our formal work – development of concept notes and proposals for projects from different donors. Our activities focused on the empowerment of girls, women and LGBTQI youth, family planning, SRHR, youth capacity building, youth health and counseling, humanitarian activities, female doctors and midwife capacity building, HIV/AIDs prevention, drug use prevention, and sexuality, gender and puberty education. Eventually, we counted around 10,000 young volunteers in the country and more than 100 master trainers, both girls and boys.
We completed many successful projects. We brought community midwives engagement ideas in the country for the first time – more than 300 community outreach midwives engaged in the provision of SRHR and related products at community level. After establishing a head office in Kabul, we set up a safe zone room for vulnerable groups, including minorities. We also provided them all the necessary support, including daily expenditures for their education and master training, and encouraged them to express their ideas and speak about their rights. I developed many successful projects and attracted support from many international donors. As a result of our efforts, women and girls in Afghanistan were better served, knew more and were able to participate more.
But with the collapse of the former government and the establishment of the new government in our country I have lost all my hope, all the struggles and the progress achieved. We are not able to carry on with our work anymore. Now, I am under direct threat of being killed, because all my work is sensitive to the new government. I left my province and hid in a safer place. I have left my wife and little kid alone with my parents.
This is one of the many stories minority activists in Afghanistan have to tell, one of the many efforts aimed to develop access and equity and to protect minorities. Despite their great work to further aims which we all believe in; they were left with no means to get protection for themselves and their families. International agencies that supported all this work when times were good have not proved able to provide support when things became extremely difficult. It is imperative to provide them with the necessary support, so they can survive this difficult situation.
Since August, MRG has been assisting Afghan minority activists and staff from our partner organizations and others who are without support as their lives and their work came under threat with the return of the Taliban. We are currently supporting some who have been able to leave for secure locations in Pakistan, while also working against the clock to help those who remain in Afghanistan. The situation changes on a daily basis, as some reach safety and others reach for help. Click here to donate to our urgent appeal.
Photo: The Taliban chases away women who came to ask local authorities for help in front of the provincial governor’s office. The Taliban handled them brutally, lashing at them with twigs and threatening them with weapons. Kabul, October 2021. Credit: grondecka on Instagram.