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‘We will start again’: Afghan female MPs, now refugees, are still fighting for rights | Afghanistan

It is a Saturday morning in November, and Afghan MP Nazifa Yousufi Bek gathers up her notes and prepares to move for the workplace. However as a substitute of leaping in an armoured automobile sure for the mahogany-lined parliament in Kabul, her journey is by bus from a Greek resort to a migrants’ organisation within the centre of Athens. There, taking her place on a folding chair, she inaugurates the Afghan girls’s parliament-in-exile.

“Our folks don’t have anything. Moms are promoting their youngsters,” she tells a room packed along with her friends. “We should increase our voices, we should put a cease to this,” says Yousufi Bek, 35, who fled Afghanistan along with her husband and three younger youngsters after the Taliban swept to energy in August. Some round her nod in settlement; others quietly weep.

Yousufi Bek, from the northern Takhar province, is considered one of 28 female MPs who’ve discovered refuge in Greece, a rustic most had by no means visited earlier than. Till just lately, these girls made up greater than 40% of Afghanistan’s female MPs. Now they are confronted with an unrecognisable alphabet and an unsure future.

Left to right: Nazifa Yousufi Bek, MP for Takhar province, with Fawzia Hamidi, MP for Balkh province, and Homa Ahmadi, MP for Logar province.
Left to proper: Nazifa Yousufi Bek, MP for Takhar province, with Fawzia Hamidi, MP for Balkh province, and Homa Ahmadi, MP for Logar province. {Photograph}: Joel van Houdt/The Guardian

They need to fight an illegitimate regime that has stripped girls of primary rights and plunged their nation deeper into poverty and starvation amid an financial meltdown brought on by the American withdrawal and sanctions.

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November sunshine pours by means of the home windows because the room buzzes with vitality. The ladies take turns talking, standing as much as tackle their friends. They categorical opposition – to the Taliban, to what they described as Pakistan’s outsized affect on current occasions – as they might in parliamentary periods in Kabul, by rhythmically drumming their fingers on the desk.

Throughout conferences with Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, the MPs have pushed the nation’s authorities to advocate for Afghan girls with different EU member states. They’ve additionally petitioned a number of ambassadors, together with the US envoy, to strain their governments to think about human rights when working with the Taliban.

Shagufa Noorzai got here up with the thought for a parallel parliament-in-exile with Yousufi Bek. A trainer earlier than turning into a legislator, whereas in workplace Noorzai centered on enhancing the monetary standing of ladies and arrange a basis aimed toward supporting homeless youngsters and widows in her native Helmand province. “I would like girls in Afghanistan to suppose, ‘Shagufa didn’t overlook us. Shagufa needs to do one thing for us’,” says Noorzai, who at 24 turned the youngest member of parliament when she was elected in 2018. Lots of the MPs have seen fierce opposition when searching for election; Yousafi Bek’s campaign was the goal of a lethal suicide bomber.

Within the coming weeks, the MPs will maintain digital periods with Joe Biden’s administration, US Congress members and UN safety council officers, which will be facilitated by Mina’s Record, a non-profit that helps girls’s political management and is working with the Afghan female lawmakers.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, centre, talks with Afghan women lawyers and judges who fled from Afghanistan.
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, centre, talks with Afghan girls attorneys and judges who fled from Afghanistan. {Photograph}: Eurokinissi/REX/Shutterstock

On the agenda: the ladies’s rights disaster beneath Taliban rule, guaranteeing assist reaches the thousands and thousands of ravenous Afghans dealing with a merciless winter and protecting strain on western nations to supply secure passage for Afghan girls who labored as judges, prosecutors and activists, in addition to those that served within the safety forces.

“Our intention is to actually leverage all of these networks, to amplify the ladies’s agenda, to amplify their platforms, to assist them have alternatives,” says Tanya Henderson, Mina Record’s founder and govt director.

Feelings have been excessive when the ladies gathered for the primary time at a neighborhood centre run by Melissa Community, a grassroots community for female migrants and refugees that performed a task of their evacuation.

“You realise how a lot energy lies with girls,” says Nadina Christopoulou, an anthropologist and director at Melissa Community. Hundreds of ladies have come by means of her doorways lately, however that is essentially the most high-profile group.

Shagufa Noorzai, MP for Helmand province, looks out from a balcony at the beach resort where she and her family share a small room.
Shagufa Noorzai, MP for Helmand province, appears out from a balcony on the seaside resort the place she and her household share a small room. {Photograph}: Joel van Houdt/The Guardian

“Ladies are half of society, so we are crucial. You’ll be able to’t cover us,” says Noorzai, within the small resort room she shares along with her mom, brother and sister simply exterior of Athens. Flowering pink bougainvillaea timber climb the whitewashed partitions of a vacation resort that has seen higher days. The MPs and their households are its solely company, filtering out and in of a meals corridor serving rooster gyros and chips earlier than strolling alongside the seaside at nightfall.

It has not been a simple adjustment: the fundamental lodgings are a far cry from the opulent homes of many Afghan politicians in Kabul and their house cities.

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Wiping away tears along with her scarf, long-serving MP Homa Ahmadi reveals a recent photo on her telephone of Taliban MPs in Kabul. The place she as soon as sat surrounded by female friends and males in fits, there are now solely males carrying turbans and sporting lengthy beards.

Ahmadi, 46, represented japanese Logar province for 15 years, successful a seat in all three of the nation’s elections.

No nation has recognised the Taliban authorities, although senior officers from some, together with the UK, have met the group’s management in current weeks, the place they advocated for girls’s rights. However these delegations contained no girls, sparking outcry from distinguished Afghan girls and inflicting German MEP Hannah Neumann final week to criticise such conferences as “counteracting the entire argument”.

The parliament-in-exile needs to convey to security the 9 female MPs who stay behind in Afghanistan. They are in hiding, a traumatic predicament the ladies know all too effectively.

“[Since August], the Taliban have killed schoolgirls, policewomen and girls in authorities. The members of the family are too afraid to talk up,” says Fawzia Hamidi, 48, a lawmaker from northern Balkh province. Previously a prosecutor for circumstances of violence in opposition to girls, Hamidi describes current murders within the area because the tip of the iceberg.

Noria Hamidi, MP for Baghlan province, addresses the parliament-in-exile. On the left is Zefroon Safi, and on the right is Hamida Ahmadzai.
Noria Hamidi, MP for Baghlan province, addresses the parliament-in-exile. On the left is Zefroon Safi, and on the suitable is Hamida Ahmadzai. {Photograph}: Joel van Houdt/The Guardian

Terrified of reprisal killings or torture by the Taliban, the MPs who fled first went into hiding earlier than escaping to Greece, typically in disguise or behind the anonymity of a face masks. Some flew by means of Iran and Georgia earlier than arriving in Athens, in a sophisticated rescue effort that concerned New York-based philanthropist Amed Khan.

Others, comparable to Halima Askari from central Wardak province, crossed overland to Uzbekistan. In her second trimester of being pregnant, a health care provider in Tashkent instructed her the child’s oxygen ranges have been severely depleted because of stress. Now in her third trimester, she will give start in Greece.

Hamidi describes how she was separated from her five-year-old daughter, Hadia, as she entered Uzbekistan beneath the quilt of darkness. “Hadia didn’t have a passport. So I used to be on one aspect of the border, and he or she on the opposite,” she says by means of muffled sobs. She is still ready to be reunited along with her daughter.

A lot of the MPs in Greece are making use of for asylum in different nations, comparable to Canada, the US and Britain.

The MPs have discovered unlikely safety in Greece, a rustic that just lately prolonged a border wall with Turkey with radars and drones designed to discourage Afghans from reaching Europe. They need to advocate on behalf of the hundreds of Afghans in limbo in Greece, the place they are the most important inhabitants of asylum seekers, with few job prospects and little alternative for reintegration with society.

“Greece is simply the start. We will start small, we will start once more,” Noorzai says.

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