“A lot of these judges were responsible for administering the rule of law and quite rightly they are fearful about the consequences that could now face them with the rise of the Taliban.” (British Justice Minister Robert Buckland)
“The harsh reality is that the future of Afghani women is the future of Afghanistan. The way forward through the pain, degradation, and chaos of the past is dependent on the treatment of Afghani women in the present. This life is the collective body of women who comprise the future of not only Afghanistan but inherently the totality of humankind as well. Their future is our future, their plight is our plight, and if they enter darkness, we too shall be consumed by it.”
Unfortunately, that future appears as bleak and as dark as any time in the past, perhaps worse. As BBC reports, “more than 220 female judges were living in hiding because they feared retribution under Taliban rule. Speaking from secret locations inside Afghanistan, many of those women said they were receiving death threats on a daily basis.”
The reason these women fear for their lives is that, as one judge put it, they delivered “long and serious” punishments for acts such as “murder, suicide, rape, and other complex crimes” to men who have now been released by the Taliban. Bent on revenge, the men have come after the judges, forcing them to flee or to go into hiding in their own country as they wait to be rescued.
A judge wishing to remain anonymous described how “Four or five Taliban members came and asked people in my house: ‘Where is this woman judge?’ These were people who I had put in jail.” Another woman, who goes by the name of Nabila, was a judge in Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, where she granted divorces to women whose husbands were sometimes sent to prison for assaulting or kidnapping them.
Then when the Taliban took over in the hasty, ill-prepared exit in August, these men, now free, issued death threats against Nabila, who said from a safe house, “I lost my job and now I can’t even go outside or do anything freely because I fear these freed prisoners. A dark future is awaiting everyone in Afghanistan, especially female judges.”
Another woman, going by the name of Sana, painted a sad picture: “It was the worst moment of my life, when I looked at my kids while leaving. I was so hopeless. I wondered whether I would ever get them out of Afghanistan alive.” Even after initially fleeing, Sana spoke about how “We were changing locations every two to three days, moving from the street to safehouses and hotels,” sadly adding, “We couldn’t go back. Our own house had already been raided.”
This is life for these judges, and likely many other women, women we deserted without first ensuring their safety and well-being, women we left behind to the beasts that now roam Afghanistan, men filled with hate and rage in their hearts. These women have, for all intents and purposes, been abandoned. Sarah Kay, a Belfast-based human rights lawyer and member of the Atlas Women network of international lawyers, states what these women know all too well: “Governments had zero interest in evacuating people that were not their own nationals.”
The sad reality is that this was a calculated maneuver by the Taliban, a measure put in place to exact revenge, to terrify the public and thus bend them to their will through intimidation and fear. Even worse, we agreed to this deal as part of the negotiations.
As the New York Post writes, “Disgruntled Afghans point to a prisoner release deal inked between the US and the Taliban in February 2020 as a key contributor in the group’s rise to victory. The agreement mandated that the Afghan government — which was not directly party to the ‘peace’ talks — free up to 5,000 Taliban fighters in government prisons before March 10 of last year.”
Not only did these prisoners, who had laughably singed documents swearing they would not take up arms with the Taliban, join the terrorist group in their rapacious march across Afghanistan, but they also turned their sights on women, now exposed and vulnerable because of an utter lack of planning and foresight on our part.
And there you have it. One president created the conditions of chaos in his stupidity and hubris, and another saw that the deal was enforced in his haste and ignorance. Patricia Whalen, a retired Vermont judge who is working tirelessly with an international committee of judges to ensure female Afghan judges are able to evacuate the country, asks the obvious and painful question: “Because of the work they did and their gender they are at risk. How could we have left them like this?”
Even worse, these women represented a light in the darkness that is once again consuming Afghanistan, as radical fundamentalism sweeps the land and strips women of their livelihoods, their dignity, and often their lives. By eliminating these judges, the Taliban have bolstered their ascension to power and guaranteed that the voice of women will no longer be heard, much less be listened to.
Sana puts it eloquently: “But female judges are needed in Afghanistan to understand the pain women are in. Like a doctor is needed to cure the sick, a female judge understands the hardships women face and she can help to solve inequality. For women, there is shame associated with even reporting a crime. But families are more likely to support their female relatives if there is a female judge present.”
I’m not sure Whalen will ever get a satisfactory answer to her question. And with the Taliban in rule, Afghanistan has likely entered darkness from which they may never emerge because, without the women of Afghanistan, there simply is no light.
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