For the last 20 years, Afghan women activists have been the frontrunners of justice for their gender kin in the homeland. Education to politics to careers, women leaders emerged as trailblazers shuttling through the glass ceiling, forging together resources and rights to secure a future where gender equality wouldn't be just a dream.
Now, with the Taliban returning to power in Afghanistan amid a breakdown of security and promises, it appears the women there will be coerced into walking over broken glass - that which they so painstakingly and bravely shattered. Only shards will remain to speak tales of the independence they came so close to actualising before the dark days set in.
"I am currently in Afghanistan and I am worried about my vague future. I have been a fierce critic of the Taliban and I do not know what my future will be like in Afghanistan - whether I will survive or not," Zarmina Kakar, a prominent women's rights activist and political deputy of the Afghan National Consensus Party, tells SheThePeople.
"Taliban occupation of Afghanistan feels very bad and worrying for Afghan women. We have sacrificed and fought for twenty years for human rights and women's freedoms in this country... we have bitter memories of the Taliban past that will not be forgotten."
As a young girl growing up in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 during the Afghan Civil War, Kakar has memories of her mother being lashed by men from the radical Islamist terror outfit on the streets for revealing her face.
Even prior to the Taliban taking Kabul on August 15, the diktat of covering up as per the group's reading of what they call the 'genuine' ways of Islam had already made its way into announcements. Spokespersons for the Taliban, in clear terms, have stated women in public will have to compulsorily don the veil. Women turned away from universities in the initial hours of the Taliban's rule were reportedly told the hijab would now be part of daily wear.
"If I wear the burqa, it means that I have accepted the Taliban’s government... I’m afraid of losing the accomplishments I fought for so hard," a female student tells The Guardian.
Afghan Women Activists Fear Return To Dark Age - And Yet, Persist
As bleary the future of sartorial choice for Afghan women seems to be currently, so is their identity through education. According to UNICEF in Afghanistan, 3.7 million children in the country are out of school, with a majority 60 percent girls. Compounded by lack of proper resources and socio-cultural factors like early marriage, education as a basic right isn't accessible for many Afghan girls.
Under the Taliban, education is posited to aggressively slide further. "A very small number of children went to school today," Kakar says, a day into the Taliban's reign.
Pashtana Durrani, an educator, columnist and founder of non-profit LEARN, tells SheThePeople the assurances of the Taliban on the retention of women and girls' rights so far are vague.
The group has said they will allow girls to continue education, "but what kind of education?" Durrani asks. "Islamic studies or general learning?" Questions also abound regarding the application of educational qualifications thus gained, since reports show working women are being escorted home from their regular public jobs, being asked to never return.
"Political rights are very important too right now for women," Durrani adds. "If we don't have 50 percent say in what our representatives in parliament or the presidential palace do, what sort of a country does that make it?" Ensuring the protection of women's "educational, political and social rights" is paramount, she says.
There is fear on the streets, both activists say. Afghan women have made a hasty retreat from public, fearing for their lives.
Select voices - of Afghan women artists, journalists, public speakers and human rights defenders - are currently able to escape into the world speak simultaneously of horrors and resistance. They are holding tall at the frontlines, refusing to back down, but with an appeal to the global community - stand with them, protest with them, and as Zarmina Kakar puts it, "don't let Afghan women return to the dark past."