I travelled around Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. This is what I saw

As an Iranian woman, I understood the fear and oppression facing Afghan women. I had to tell their stories to the world

I crossed the border into Afghanistan from Iran one month after the Taliban seized Kabul. I could no longer handle reading, sharing posts or retweeting news about Afghanistan. I could no longer look at the agony without even touching it. I needed to witness the situation with my own eyes.

I managed to get the visa of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan at the border by pretending I was going to visit relatives in Herat, in the west of the country. It was my first trip abroad since the pandemic and it might be my last as an Iranian holding a passport stamped by the Taliban. But it did not matter, I had to be in Afghanistan at any price.

Perhaps no woman on Earth can relate to an Afghan woman more than an Iranian. With shared language and culture, we know what it means when a political power transfer happens and men in power decide on women’s issues. We know that when those men say that ‘proper systems are in place to ensure the safety of women’, it means that they are going to gradually ignore us.

We know the process: first, they announce their respect for women, emphasising women’s duty of childbearing, then they rule how women should cover themselves, before banning us from going to work or having higher education, ‘for our own good and security’. And then, some time later, after wars, bombs, suicide attacks or economic crises, women’s issues are forgotten altogether.

In Iran, the process went from ‘women are at liberty to choose their hijab’ before the 1979 revolution to ‘women without hijab are not allowed in governmental offices’ right after, then to ‘mandatory hijab for every woman’ some years later, to ‘in this critical condition protesting against mandatory hijab or demanding equal rights is not a sensitive action’, decades after.

‘I am afraid they could whip me’

In 2019, the administration of then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from a planned nuclear deal with Iran and re-imposed economic sanctions that had been lifted as part of the agreement. As a result, the Iranian currency plunged, making Iranians like me much poorer. But this was not the only reason I chose to take a shared-taxi with nine other passengers to reach Herat: I vowed on this trip to be in contact with people as much as I could.

Before reaching the border, my travel companion told me he would not take any ‘responsibility’ if I did not wear a chador (a full-body cloak) when we arrived in Afghanistan. Yet, even wearing a chador could not protect me from the staring eyes of men at the border. I was the only woman there.

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