New York City Rises For and With the Women of Afghanistan, Attracting Changemakers From Diverse Backgrounds

By JA, Activist/Writer and founder of Young Feminists and Allies (YFA), Inaugural Vitual Chapter for National Organization of Women (NOW)

On a warm autumn day in New York City, activists gathered outside the United Nations to rally for and with the women of Afghanistan. Organized by One Billion Rising, the event was part of globally-occurring demonstrations, timed to coincide with a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. In NYC, ralliers included women, men, girls, boys and gender-nonconforming folks from all backgrounds. They wore Afghan, Indian and Western clothing in all hues and styles, including red outfits to represent the color of V-Day and OBR. Participants donned OBR face masks that read “RISE” and “RISE For and With the Women of Afghanistan,” while CODEPINK members wore T-shirts that urged us to, “Make Out, Not War.”

New York City Rises For and With the Women of Afghanistan, Attracting Changemakers From Diverse Backgrounds
Images courtesy of Bryan Bedder/Getty for One Billion Rising

Local Afghan activists and artists led the rising, following the leadership of women’s rights champions on the ground in Afghanistan.Afghan changemakers recounted personal stories or read testimonials of the plight of women under Taliban rule. Prominent feminist activists like V (formerly Eve Ensler), founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising, moved us to take action. Musicians Morley Shanti Kamen, Chris Bruce, Neel Murgai, Trina Basu and Arun Ramamurthi energized the crowd with songs of resistance.

New York City Rises For and With the Women of Afghanistan, Attracting Changemakers From Diverse Backgrounds
Images courtesy of Bryan Bedder/Getty for One Billion Rising

Demonstrators heard tales of women who could no longer get an education, women and men who lost their jobs and livelihoods, and the terrified citizens of all genders and ages who fear leaving home under the threat of execution.

Atossa Leoni, actor from “The Kite Runner,” read the testimony of Dr. Nooria*. Dr. Nooria not only lost her job but also fears for her life, given that she worked in a women’s hospital and continues to fight for Afghan women’s rights. She recounted the August day when the Taliban took over Kabul. Everyone started rushing into the hospital in fear for their lives. “It was the day that darkness took over Afghanistan. … That is when Kabul died.”

Actor Gerianne Perez, who stars in the Broadway play Waitress, shared Lailuma’s dire testimony. The Taliban murdered both her husband and son and took away her job. She doesn’t know how she will provide for her family members who are still alive.

Mariam Nazari traveled from Texas with her young son to testify how the Taliban’s violence has impacted her whole family. Nazari is Hazara, a group that has been ethnically cleansed for generations by the Afghan government. She and her family fled to Pakistan but continued to face persecution as undocumented refugees. At 13, Nazari considered suicide because she couldn’t see a future for herself that extended beyond working to feed her family. She was rescued by Afghans abroad, who paid for her family’s expenses so she could go back to school. She is now a successful software engineer, but hasn’t been able to sleep for a month because she cannot stop thinking about her female cousins and other Afghans trapped once again by the Taliban.

Leeza Ahmady, Director and Curator of Asia Contemporary Art Week, pointed out that the Taliban came into existence because decades of war “abandoned Afghan boys growing up in refugee camps, caught in the clutches of violence without the soul-nourishing love of their mothers and the wise teachings of their womenfolk.”

Matin Maulawizada, fashion and celebrity make-up artist and co-founder of Afghan Hands, broke down in tears to confess, “As an Afghan man, all I can say is that I am sorry. … We have failed our women. As Afghan men, we grew up with the notion that our mothers and sisters … need protection from us at all costs. With this notion, decades of wars, rapes and now this imported Wahhabi cult they call Islam, we have not only failed to protect them, but have managed to suffocate them.” As a Muslim feminist, I can attest that the Taliban and Wahhabism are patriarchal desecrations of the Quran, which gave women and girls the right to education and jobs.

V expressed her heartbreak and rage at the closing of the V-Day supported City of Knowledge, which was successfully educating thousands of women in Kabul for 10 years. “Today I am holding grief and rising for and with the women of Afghanistan. I am rising against imperialism, militarism, fascism and religious fundamentalism,” she said. She condemned the mistaken drone strikes against civilians, saying, “Verbal apologies are hollow and insulting. We need real accountability and reparations.”

V continued, “I am rising following the lead of our Afghan sisters on the ground, … who we have been in solidarity for over 20 years as they rise against the U.S. military, the warlords and the Taliban and with them, we refuse to recognize the Taliban government, which has no legitimacy beyond the brutal force it commands.” She urged us to “Rage, roar and rise,” and affirmed that, “Afghanistan belongs to the freedom-loving people of Afghanistan. These risings and events will continue until the women of Afghanistan are free.”

Jodie Evans, co-founder of CODEPINK, educated us about the $28 trillion that our government has spent on the war on terror since 2001, which equates to plundering $300 million per day. A fraction of that sum — $25 billion — could provide COVID-19 vaccinations for millions of people around the world. Evans demanded that we “Cut the Pentagon for the world, for the planet, for the people, for peace, for our future.”

“We understand that our common future as women is reflected in the faces of Afghan women,” said V, “as right-wing populist forces that are anti-women, anti-human rights and anti-democracy are rising around the world.” She deplored that the U.S. has lost its soul and urged it and its allies to “finance the resettling of displaced people from Afghanistan,” and welcome refugees from Haiti.

Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International, implored us to create rituals to support Afghan women long after the rally to magnify their voices and plight and provide any resources we can share.

Halema Wali, campaigner for Afghans for a Better Tomorrow, called on world leaders to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan so that millions don’t starve or die from illnesses. She urged us to support the continued resistance of women activists in her birth country, who are risking their lives to secure the rights of women to go to school, work and stay alive. “The lives of school children, the lives of girls, the lives of women and the lives of my own family depend on it,” said Wali.

“The U.S. has essentially handed the keys to the country to the same Taliban that used soccer stadiums as grounds for public executions,” proclaimed Wali. “I’ll never forget the day I saw the image of the Afghan woman being brought onto the soccer field and her deep blue burqa quickly turning red.” We must not forget her, either.

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*The full names of some of the Afghan activists are concealed to protect their security.