Sadaf and Zolheja, their Afghan sisters, dream of becoming businesswomen. However, Sadaf seems poised to achieve this ambition while Zolheja is being thwarted due to the Taliban’s ban against women attending universities.
Zolheja, aged 19, said that “it seems that I must bury all my dreams,” and that she had to abandon her business management course because of the ban. (NBC News confirmed the identities of the sisters but did not use their last names because they were afraid of reprisals from Taliban.
She stated that she spends her time “thinking, crying and searching for scholarships to get the opportunity to study elsewhere.”
She said, “I will go wherever you want me to.”
Sadaf, her older sister, said she was evacuated to Afghanistan in August 2021 shortly after the Taliban took power . She said that her work with a nongovernmental organization focused on education made it possible for her to migrate to the United States.
She said, “I had no choice but to do this. I had to be here to support my family.”
Although the Taliban had initially promised a more moderate and vowed to respect women’s rights, they have since implemented their strict interpretations of Islamic law or the Sharia. The country is now the most oppressive in the world for girls and women, with many of their fundamental rights being denied, the United Nations stated Wednesday.
Most fields of employment were barred to women, told to wear head-toe clothing in public, and prohibited from using parks or gyms. The Taliban began to ban girls from middle school and high schools last spring. They also blocked women’s access to universities.
Zolheja claimed that she learned about the ban at her university. She was also blocked from entering with other female students.
She said, “The day they announced the ban I felt like they had killed me.” “We are human beings, we should live the life we choose, not what the Taliban want us to.”
She said that her mother was especially sad because her dreams were crushed when the Taliban banned female education in 1996 after they came to power.
Zolheja stated that she had been through this same experience and knew how it felt.
Sadaf said that their mother had wanted to return to school after the U.S.-led invasion of 2001. This was prompted by the Taliban’s refusal Osama Bin Laden to hand over the Al Qaeda leader and mastermind behind the terrorist attacks.
Access to education was made available to women in the country at that time. However, Sadaf stated that she couldn’t get documents to prove she had completed most of her studies and didn’t want to start again.
Sadaf claimed that their mom left home to take care of the chores so they could concentrate on their studies.
She said that their father was supportive of them in their education and added that he didn’t want them to be “women who live inside the house cooking and cleaning.”
She said, “I’m so thankful that I have parents like these,”
After the Taliban overtook the country, that support did not waver. They had some very emotional conversations with their family and decided to let her go with the assistance of an NGO.
She said that she was trying to escape Afghanistan and added that her goodbyes were rushed when she set off on what would be her first foreign trip from Kabul International Airport.
Sadaf, weeping through tears, said that her mother had told her to “stay secure” and she was moved by her memories of their separation.
She also said that she called her mother on the plane and told them, “I’m flying.”
After landing in Qatar, she flew first to the Ramstein Air Base, southwestern Germany, and then on to Washington, D.C. She then traveled to Texas, New Mexico, and Texas, where she stayed nearly two months. She said she finally made her way to Tulsa, where friends from the NGO she had worked with in Afghanistan. (NBC News was informed by a U.S. official who knew Sadaf’s travel.
Her first home in the U.S. was a dorm room at the University of Tulsa. This university had established a support program to fleeing Afghans. Soon after, she worked as a case manager at a resettlement agency and an interpreter before being accepted to the university.
Sadaf stated that she misses “everything” from her homeland, particularly her family, and that it was difficult to adjust to Oklahoma. She earned a 4.0 GPA in her first semester of English while she was also studying English.
She is currently in the U.S. on humanitarian parole status. She said that she was applying to asylum and hoping to get a green card. She stated that she plans to eventually bring her family to America. There are many ways to do this, including the new Welcome Corps program launched last month by the State Department. This will allow private citizens in the U.S. to sponsor refugees.
The ban on female education in Afghanistan remains in effect despite international condemnation by Western countries and more extreme Muslim majority nations. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and Pakistan also urged the Taliban not to continue their current course. Saudi Arabia, which had until 2019, imposed severe restrictions on women’s travel and employment, as well as other important aspects of their daily lives, including driving, and was condemned by Western countries.
The ban also led to several protests in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, just over 100,000 of the country’s 20 million female citizens were enrolled in higher educational institutions in 2021 according to data from the Education Ministry and published in May by its National Statistics and Information Authority.
The Taliban have not shown any signs of changing the policy. A separate ban on Afghan women working in non-governmental organizations was also implemented last month. According to the group, female workers weren’t wearing the Islamic headscarf properly.
When asked if they would restore education for girls and women, several senior Taliban members declined to answer. They declined to answer questions about whether girls and women would be permitted to work for NGOs.
Although some Western institutions offer virtual courses to Afghan students, only 18% of Afghans have internet access in 2020, according the World Bank.
Zolheja stated that she felt “a bird in a cage who wants fly but can’t” and added, “I feel like there’s no reason to live or any future worth waiting for.”
Although Sadaf’s prospects look brighter, she is still saddened by the plight of her sister and other women in her country.
They chat by text whenever they can, but Sadaf stated that she has thoughts about Zolheja and her future family when she is not with them.
She said, “Just staying home and not doing any work, it bothers my sister and me a lot.” “I can’t do any thing for her, that’s why it saddens me.”