What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Despite Taliban promises, Afghan women fear losing their freedoms and lives

The plight of women and girls in Afghanistan, many of whom gained new freedoms over the past 20 years, is now among the most important priorities now that the Taliban have taken over. With the help of author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Stephanie Sy tells us the story of a woman who persevered under the Taliban, flourished over the last 20 years, and escaped the Taliban's return just 48 hours ago.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have been hearing, the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan is now among the most important and concerning priorities now that the Taliban have taken over.

    With the help of Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Stephanie Sy tells us the story of a woman who persevered under the Taliban, flourished over the last 20 years, and escaped the Taliban's return just 48 hours ago.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    On the streets of Kabul, there is defiance amid despair.

    A few Afghan women in front of the presidential palace demanding that the Taliban protect their rights. Elsewhere in the capital, there are few, if any women on the streets. The U.N. says 80 percent of the 250,000 people internally displaced in Afghanistan since May have been women and children. The lucky ones, if you can call them that, have left the country, including entrepreneur Kamila Sidiqi.

    "NewsHour" contributor Gayle Tzemach Lemmon wrote a book about her, "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana," nearly a decade ago.

  • Gayle Tzemach Lemmon:

    What comes next for you?

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Last Friday, Lemmon interviewed Kamila from her home in Kabul as the Taliban edged closer.

  • Gayle Tzemach Lemmon:

    You said you want to come back to Afghanistan, you want to stay in Afghanistan. You say you want to stay and be part of your country's future, but how hard is that for you personally?

  • Kamila Sidiqi:

    It's really hard for me, especially, since tonight, that everybody called me, my friends and my colleagues and my family members, and ask me that, why you're not leaving? You have to leave Kabul.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    She spoke to Kamila again this morning. She had fled Afghanistan over the weekend as the Taliban overran Kabul.

  • Gayle Tzemach Lemmon:

    How do you feel right now? You have just landed from Afghanistan?

  • Kamila Sidiqi:

    Right — no hope.

    My friends, family, the activists, everybody is in Kabul, and everybody want to leave the country.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Gayle spoke to Kamila six years ago while she was visiting Washington as deputy chief of staff for the Afghan president.

  • Gayle Tzemach Lemmon:

    Is there anything that gives you concern or things that keep you up at night worrying about the future?

  • Kamila Sidiqi:

    Security, security of my country, especially those people that they are living in the very remote area and very different provinces, that there is no good life for a woman.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Kamila has lived under Taliban oppression before.

  • Gayle Tzemach Lemmon:

    What do you think this Taliban will be like? They're telling the international community they are different and they're going to allow women and girls.

  • Kamila Sidiqi:

    Now people are afraid a lot, but let's see their action, if they — can they be different? We will see from their action and we will see. There was a lot of interview from different Taliban, and they ask people to go back to their offices.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Promises made are not the same as promises kept, but there are signs of change.

    Afghan news outlet Tolo News resumed coverage today with women anchors, including one who interviewed a Taliban spokesman. That scenario would have been unimaginable in the late 1990s under Taliban control. Then, the group implemented their own interpretation of Islamic law. Women were not allowed to work or leave the home without a male escort.

    In 2001, the Taliban fell, and women like Kamila were largely responsible for rebuilding the country.

  • Kamila Sidiqi:

    Today, we have a lot of opportunity. If someone wants to establish a business, it's very easy to go and register a company and do a business.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Today, a member of the Taliban said there would be no gender discrimination under their rule this time.

  • Enamullah Samangani, Taliban Cultural Commission (through translator):

    The stand of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan towards women is clear. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has never had a discriminative statement and never expressed gender discrimination. Unfortunately, there are false rumors going around that are not accurate.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But, in recent years, the Taliban has assassinated female public figures in Afghanistan like judges. And there are new reports of women being taken out of school and high-profile women being detained in recent days. Shop owners are painting over images of women out of fear of Taliban retribution.

    Safer in Germany for now, Kamila has a message for the rest of the world.

  • Gayle Tzemach Lemmon:

    Do you think the international community fought hard enough to protect women and girls in all of this?

  • Kamila Sidiqi:

    I wish, because, this time, right now, the experience that we have from two, three days, everybody left us. I don't know where is international people.

    The woman that they are living in Kabul, they are very sad from international community and also from the world.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    As the Taliban flag flies over major Afghan cities this week, Kamila and thousands of others feel abandoned.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.

Listen to this Segment