October 19, 2021
As the Taliban marched into Kabul on August 15, Zarifa*, a 32-year-old Afghan lawyer, knew she had to make some difficult decisions, fast. She faced threats from the insurgent group for her work in protecting women’s legal rights, and risked losing her family. Women, particularly those who fought for gender rights, especially found their futures to be uncertain.
Zarifa, a divorcee, had fought in Afghan courts for over four years to secure the custody of her two daughters from her abusive husband. “It wasn’t easy to get my daughters back. I had to lose my rights over mehr [Islamic alimony], forfeit his financial responsibility toward the children, along with money and property we shared. I gave up everything in exchange for my daughters,” she told me. But now under Sharia rule with the Taliban in power, if she remains in Afghanistan, Zarifa would have no rights to her children and her ex-husband would gain full custody.
Zarifa frantically reached out to friends to help her leave the country. One responded, and Zarifa joined a lengthy list of evacuating Afghan lawyers whose work clashed with the Taliban’s laws. After days of hiding and waiting, Zarifa, her children, and her parents received a call directing them to make their way to the airport immediately. “With just the clothes on our back and all the relevant documents in hand, we left,” Zarifa said.