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Two years into Taliban rule, Afghan women ask Canada for education and accountability

More than 70 people gathered in front of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill Sunday afternoon to call on Canadians to join them in protecting girls’ education in Afghanistan and resisting legitimacy for the Taliban regime currently in power in the country.

More than 70 people gathered in front of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill Sunday afternoon to call on Canadians to join them in protecting girls’ education in Afghanistan and resisting legitimacy for the Taliban regime currently in power in the country.

Many said the international community has a stronger role to play in bringing the terrorist group to justice, noting conditions in the country have deteriorated dramatically since the Taliban seized the capital city of Kabul in August 2021.

“It’s a complete humanitarian and human-rights crisis that’s been going on for two years,” said Murwarid Ziayee, a senior director with Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.

The group, members of which attended Sunday’s march, is part of a global effort to have countries help gather evidence of “gender apartheid.” They want to see an eventual International Criminal Court prosecution of the Taliban for crimes against humanity.

The hard line fundamentalist group took over Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2021 after U.S. troops pulled out of a two-decade military mission that had heavy Canadian involvement.

There were 165 Canadians, including seven civilians, who died during the mission. During that time, girls were able to attend school and rose through the ranks of universities, companies and government departments.

Global sanctions deepened an economic crisis immediately after the Taliban takeover, and severe weather and earthquakes soon followed. Within six months of Kabul’s fall, the UN reported that 95 per cent of Afghans were not getting enough to eat.

The Taliban touts a decline in bomb attacks and bribes under its rule, but the UN has documented atrocious treatment of women, who have been denied vital medical services and barred from numerous professions.

This month, the BBC’s Persian service reported that Taliban leaders in certain provinces have expanded a ban on education to girls as young as 10. The Taliban had already barred girls from attending secondary schools.

“My friends are back home, they can’t go to school. I talk to them and they’re always feeling depressed,” said Yasamin Dellawari, one of the young women who attended the rally in shirts that read “Let Her Learn” and sang an original song for the crowd.

The 19-year-old fled her home two years ago because of the Taliban. Now that she is in Canada, she’s determined to do something to help those who stayed behind.

Batool Karimi, 17, said it meant a lot to her to see the support for Afghan girls at the rally.

“I’m pretty sure one day we’re going to have this gathering, this generation, all of us in Afghanistan, in Kabul, and we are going to talk about how we did it,” she said.

To get there, many of the afternoon’s speakers said, they will need the support of the international community.

“The resistance is there,” said Homa Hoodfar, a professor of social and cultural anthropology at Montreal’s Concordia University who spoke at the rally.

“Afghan women — despite all the problems — have been there (in) the streets, raising their voices. Unfortunately, the international support has not been so forthcoming.”

Ziayee was raised in Kabul and spent two decades working on development projects in Afghanistan during its democratic period.

Her group operates schools and recently asked students aged 10 to 12 to draw the way they saw their future. Many sketched themselves behind bars or in a cave, while others drew total darkness.

“The reality of their lives is so hard to digest. What we hear is a sense of hopelessness,” she said.

“It makes me want to stand stronger and fight because they cannot do it from inside, although women have shown so much strength and bravery by resisting the Taliban.”

Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan has shifted some of its physical schools to online learning, which parents have their daughters attend in secret.

It’s an act of faith — the idea is to maintain the gains in education so that girls can get back to class whenever they’re allowed, without missing entire grades.

Among the Afghan diaspora, there is an agonizing debate about whether countries should accept Taliban rule and work with them to alleviate hunger, or stick with principles in the hopes of undermining the terrorist group’s grip on the country. UN agencies have been similarly split, with some suspending activities that bar women and others limiting their work to all-male teams.

Ziayee said there shouldn’t be a compromise between values and aid.

She said blanket sanctions on Afghanistan are punishing everyday people and should instead be directed at specific Taliban leaders who travel or do business abroad. She said that might instill accountability for human-rights atrocities.

Canada can fund online-learning projects and follow through on its delayed pledge to resettle 40,000 Afghans. Ottawa could also step up in its promise to allow Canadian development groups to help people in Afghanistan, she said.

The Liberals passed Bill C-41 in June, which changed parts of Canada’s terrorism law that barred aid workers from hiring or purchasing anything in Afghanistan on the grounds that paying taxes to the Taliban amounts to funding a terror group.

The law immediately cleared hurdles for humanitarian groups trying to get food and medical supplies into the country. But it subjects development groups, such as those trying to build clinics or wells, to a permitting process that has no launch date.

In a July 14 presentation to stakeholders, the Department of Public Safety said it expects to launch that permitting process “in the coming months.”

Sen. Ratna Omidvar advocated for the legislation for more than a year and helped amend the bill to ensure aid flows faster and Ottawa reviews the bill’s effectiveness.

Omidvar has been given no timeline for implementation, but says bureaucrats have been working to launch the permitting process. She expects them to announce the format sometime in September.

“In political and parliamentary life in Canada, that perhaps is not too long,” she said. “The wheels are moving; I know that developmental groups would want to have the permission as soon as possible.”

Ziayee said she’s anxious that Ottawa still hasn’t fixed an issue that allies sorted out within months of the Taliban seizing Kabul.

“While we really appreciate that this passed, we need some clarity,” she said. “We can’t wait for another two years to have a timeline or a start date.”