Murwarid Ziayee is the senior director for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, an organization that the Alberta Teachers’ Association has sponsored for several years through its International Co-operation Program.
Originally from Kabul, Afghanistan, Ziayee came to Canada in 2018. The ATA News interviewed her about her life in Afghanistan and the current situation in her homeland.
What was it like for you growing up in Afghanistan?
I come from a generation of war. I was born and raised in war. So it has always been an uncertain future ahead of me and my generation. During my life, I have had some dull moments that allowed me to live a reasonably normal life, and other times that robbed me of everything I had gained in life, including my right to education.
There were times when I had been only five minutes from a huge bomb blast in Kabul, times when rockets were flying around us and windows were smashed, and times when I wasn’t allowed to leave my house as a girl. Nevertheless, I never gave up despite the never-ending conflict and the uncertainties. I was taught by my family to resist whatever comes my way, so I did just that.
I lived all of my life in Afghanistan, invested in myself by completing my education, even though it was interrupted for several years due to the civil war and the Taliban regime, and gained knowledge and experience. All I believed was that I could stand alongside other Afghans and we could work together to build a better country where everyone could live peacefully and with dignity. I also thought I was moving toward a dream that now appears to be just an illusion.
Why did you leave?
I was offered a new role in our organization (Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan), where I had been working since 2010. I was working as their country director prior to moving to Canada and now am working as their senior director.
What goes through your mind when you see the news about Afghanistan?
I am outraged, heartbroken and disappointed. It is hard to believe the Afghan government collapsed, the country collapsed, and 35 million people were turned over to terrorism. I reflect on the past 20 years, how Afghan and international forces as well as aid workers sacrificed their lives to establish a democratic system, and how donors and NGOs invested in human capital, infrastructure, establishing institutions in all sectors, and advancing women’s rights. What we have gained in the past 20 years has disappeared overnight.
The international community, led by the United States, has betrayed us. It wasn’t the right way to end the mission in Afghanistan. The United States and its allies have always claimed partnership with Afghanistan. The question is what kind of partnership this is, that they came into Afghanistan without consulting Afghans and left Afghanistan the same way. Respect, mutual understanding and accountability are essential to a partnership – none of which was shown by our international partners.
What is your greatest concern about the situation there now?
The safety of those Afghans who stood up with the Afghan government and its international partners for the past two decades, including my own colleagues who contributed to the delivery development projects in the country’s far reaches. I am concerned about the lives of women and civil society activists. The Taliban has vocally targeted them before and will continue haunting them if not stopped. I am seriously concerned about losing all the fundamental rights women and girls enjoyed for the past 20 years. They have already restricted girls’ access to education beyond primary school and forbidden them to work.
The Taliban announced their cabinet, which includes hardliners and most-wanted figures in the U.S. Those who had carried out the most complex and deadly attacks are now leading the interior and defence ministries. Those who enforced the most inhumane punishment to civilians through the field courts are now part of the judiciary system. How can people be ensured of safety and justice if these people are in power?
What connections do you have with people currently in Afghanistan?
My colleagues, family, friends and women activists.
What are you hearing from them about life in Afghanistan right now?
Life is horrible for everyone. People are living in fear and despair. An uncertain and dark life is awaiting them. There are some people I know who change their locations constantly to avoid being identified by the Taliban. Girls are anxious about their education and women are concerned about their employment and livelihoods.
Afghanistan is experiencing a humanitarian crisis. The economy has collapsed, the cash is gone and jobs are gone in all sectors. The United Nations warns that 18 million people are facing humanitarian disaster in the country, and that another 18 million may follow. With winter fast approaching, their situation will only worsen.
Can you tell us how school has changed for teachers and students since the Taliban seized control?
The Taliban announced a ban from secondary education for girls, while boys are allowed to return to their schools. This decision has left more than five million girls out of school. Thousands of female teachers have also been restricted from teaching. Students and teachers are anxiously awaiting their return to school.
While the Taliban mentions security as the main reason for stalling girls education, there is a hard question [being asked] by female students: if security is a concern, then why are children aged 7–11 allowed to attend school? Donors should identify the leverage they have in order to push for concrete commitments on the rights of women – through targeted sanctions, aid, political pressure and other means.
What are your thoughts, hopes and fears about the future of Afghanistan?
I am not optimistic about Afghanistan’s future. If the international community and world leaders close their eyes to Afghanistan (like they did in the 90s), do not listen to Afghan people and give legitimacy to the Taliban by recognizing their regime, this will leave me and other Afghans with no prospects.
Tell us about your organization’s work and the specific initiatives it’s focusing on.
Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan) is a charity and not-for-profit organization. We have been working in Afghanistan for more than two decades with a focus on providing quality education to Afghan women and girls and their families. Through implementing hundreds of educational projects, we have contributed to the progress of the education sector in the country, reaching women and girls from diverse backgrounds and educational levels – from rural to urban areas, from students to teachers and from illiterate women to educators.
What can people here do to help?
- Participate in our advocacy campaigns. Currently, we run the International Day of the Girls campaign in solidarity with Afghan girls: https://cw4wafghan.ca/human-rights-2/.
- Donate to support our work.
- Consider hosting a Breaking Bread event to keep Afghanistan in the public eye and raise funds.
- Follow us on social media, consider becoming a member or starting a chapter in your city. ❚