In the heart of Cologne, Germany, a powerful protest is unfolding that demands the world's attention. Afghan activist Zarmina Paryani, along with her sisters and a group of Afghan women, is staging a hunger strike to protest what they term "gender apartheid" in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Zarmina's journey from being a midwife in Afghanistan to an activist on the global stage is one of courage, determination, and unwavering commitment to women's rights.
As the Taliban rose to power in 2021, they promised women the right to study and work, but regressive measures quickly followed. Girls were barred from schools, travel restrictions were imposed, and women faced violence when protesting. Strict dress codes, university bans, and the closure of women's spaces culminated in a dire situation by July 2023. UN officials and Human Rights Watch have called for policy reversals, but Afghan women continue to suffer.
In an exclusive conversation with SheThePeople, Zarmina Paryani sheds light on her and her sisters' remarkable journey out of Afghanistan; last year, caught between life and death after the brutal torture of Taliban officials, staged a 12-day hunger strike in Cologne, Germany, demanding justice and freedom for Afghan women.
Life and Dreams in Afghanistan
Before the Taliban's rise to power, Zarmina was a midwife, cherishing the dream of a nation that would one day embrace gender equality. In her own words, "I cherished the belief that our nation would one day embrace equal rights for both genders."
Defying Compulsory Decrees: The Catalyst for Protest
One pivotal moment ignited the fire of resistance within Zarmina and her sisters. The Taliban's decree mandating that all Afghan women wear the Islamic headscarf struck at the heart of their beliefs in individual choice and freedom. In Zarmina's own words, "I am against compulsory laws, and I wish that even if I choose to wear a headscarf, it should be of my own volition. I do not embrace any culture, religion, or doctrine that advocates coercion and force." This unwavering conviction became the driving force behind their protest.
Challenges Faced as Women Activists in Afghanistan
Being an activist often comes with personal sacrifices, and Zarmina candidly shares some of the challenges she has faced during her journey.
"I've been imprisoned twice in my journey of struggle, enduring cold nights with my sisters in a male prison in Afghanistan, under torture. I wasn't allowed to travel or speak freely. Even in strikes, my body was my weapon. With difficulty and pain, I've grown accustomed, my heart no longer races for survival. I want to give my all for human freedom."
On August15, 2022, I was fleeing with my three sisters through an illegal route,caught between life and death.Among hundreds of protesting women at the Ministry of Interior,only my sisters and I were banned from leaving.Taliban imposed this ban out of fear that we might reveal the pic.twitter.com/RiXtGLV4bF— Zarmina Paryani (@ZarminaaParyani) August 15, 2023
The Courageous Hunger Strike
The Paryani sisters, along with a group of Afghan women, staged a hunger strike in Cologne, Germany, to protest the "gender apartheid" imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Their strike garnered significant attention, both nationally and internationally. However, the journey was not without its challenges.
Tamana Zaryab Paryani, one of Zarmina's sisters, was moved to a hospital on the 12th day of the strike due to deteriorating health. The physical toll of the strike was a testament to their dedication, as they put their bodies on the line for a cause they believed in. Zarmina envisions their hunger strike as a catalyst for global awareness and action toward improving the situation for Afghan women.
The Plight of Afghan Women Under Taliban Rule
From Zarmina's perspective, the ground reality for Afghan women under Taliban rule is grim. The Taliban's ideology denies Afghan women their basic human rights and treats them as less than human. She adds, "Women have been crying out on the streets, rejecting the terrorists with empty hands. They are stripped of their fundamental freedoms, and subject to a life defined by oppression and fear."
International Community's Response to the Afghan Crisis
The international community's response to the Afghan crisis, particularly concerning women's rights, has come under scrutiny. Zarmina questions whether enough has been done, saying, "If the global community truly prioritised women's rights and destinies, they wouldn't have surrendered Afghanistan to the terrorist group, the Taliban. Today, we stand against this world and challenge why, in the twenty-first century, support is given to a terrorist group both financially and politically."
Hopes and Aspirations for Afghanistan's Future
Beyond the struggle, Zarmina has hopes and aspirations for the future of Afghanistan, especially for its women. She envisions a better Afghanistan where women can lead lives free from oppression and discrimination.
A Message to the World
If Zarmina could convey one message to the world regarding the plight of Afghan women and her activism, it would be this: "The world thought Afghanistan was the same as it was twenty years ago, but today's generation is fighting against these policies. We challenge the world, even our last weapon is our own bodies. Our message is clear: do not support terrorists in our land."
In a world often divided by politics and borders, the story of Zarmina Paryani and her sisters serves as a reminder that the fight for basic human rights transcends nationality and culture. Their message is clear: they will not accept a life of subjugation, and they call upon the world to stand with them in solidarity.
Suggested reading: Mursal Mohammadi: Story Of An Afghan Refugee Living In India