THE group of three Afghan women who went on a seven-day hunger strike outside Westminster have called on their Scottish counterparts to speak out.
The trio, all of them working mothers, only consumed water to draw attention to the plight of Afghan women. They say they have been inundated with messages from women across the UK and beyond, including residents of Germany and Sweden, sending support. While their hunger strike is over, they want to continue their campaign and want others to take over the baton as well.
And the three who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from the Taliban and their supporters hope to inspire the growing number of Afghan women in Scotland to stand up for the cause of their rural women.
Hundreds of Afghans have arrived in Scotland since regime change triggered by the withdrawal of British and US troops, with more to follow.
This week, the Midlothian Council confirmed that the first of five families to move there will arrive by the end of the month. Others are now settling in Aberdeenshire while the Moray Council is slated to accept 20 people. The Highland, Dundee, Perth, and Kinross and Angus councils are also among those confirming they will accept refugees. The measures will significantly increase the Afghan population of Scotland, which rose to around 4,000 before the Department of Defense hastily evacuated interpreters and their families, along with others identified as particularly vulnerable because of their work for the UK authorities. And they are increasing the number of Afghans who live outside of Glasgow, where most of the community lives.
“We want to inspire all Afghan women to stand up for human rights and for their country and to be the voice of those women who no one can hear now,” said one of the demonstrators, who are all based in the London area. “Protest, email your MPs and MSPs, speak up, never be silent.”
The trio urges the UK government not to recognize the Taliban and to take steps to advance international efforts to protect women and persecuted minorities, including Afghan Sikhs.
They are calling for pressure on girls’ education, violence against Taliban opponents and investigations into reports of targeted killings and enforced disappearances.
“Has the struggle of the suffragettes taught us nothing,” they ask in a statement to the MPs. “Women should be offered the same rights that the West claims to be fighting for in Afghanistan. Democracy has withered. ”
Women acknowledge that many Afghans in the UK remain afraid to speak up, but believe that “this is the time for Afghan women to stand up”.
“We’re not superwomen,” said one of the trio. “We are no different from everyone else.”
In Glasgow, Khalida Bostani agrees. She and other volunteers run a local women’s empowerment group through the Glasgow Afghan United charity. Many of those involved recently took part in an anti-Taliban demonstration in the city’s George Square. “Afghan women face many barriers,” said the mother of seven, “but they are also resilient, talented, intelligent and powerful. They may not always know how to say something to make themselves heard, but they know what to say and right now they want to reject the Taliban, stand up for women and girls and assert themselves.
“We work with our members to help them in any way we can and will continue to do so. We support and will continue to support the human and democratic right to protest and call on the UK Government and the international community to listen. ”