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Thursday, Mar 23, 2023

Afghanistan, an “elephant in the room”

On Jan. 1, among other visitors and groups of advocates in front of the White House, a large group of Afghans was immediately noticeable.   



This chant carries with it grief and anger; it is also a demand for human rights for Afghanistan women as the Taliban continues to push women out of the public and professional spheres. In a recent order on Dec. 20, the Taliban banned higher education for women after secondary schools have been suspended for over a year.  

At 1:30 a.m my phone rings. It is my friend, my high school classmate in Kabul. After a long pause, I answer her call. “Today was the last day of classes,” she said. “I do not want to stay home, I want to study,” she added. And what could I tell her? Could I talk about the protest I attended in D.C., shouted for two hours, then left feeling unheard? Would it make any difference? Her whole life was darkened and she was not alone. She is one of the millions of other Afghanistan girls who want to learn, to work and to be free — and now forbidden to do so. 

On the first day of my Winter Term class last year, my professor talked about the “elephant in the room,” a common phrase in the states. He refers to it as “an idea or condition, a situation that everyone  knows about, that everyone knows is true and that everyone knows it must be dealt with, yet no one does.” The phrase perfectly describes how the majority of people around the world have responded to the plight of Afghanistan women. They hear about it, avoid talking about it and don’t take action. Afghan women are invisible within the politics of human rights. The violation of human rights anywhere is a violation of human rights everywhere. How will we be able to achieve equality in this part of the globalized world while the other half is fully paralyzed?

Afghanistan is a failure. A failure of men, politicians and warlords who brought years of disaster to the people of Afghanistan and now deny any responsibility for the pain they have caused. Today, a woman in Afghanistan is not allowed to go to the hospital without a male family member even if she is in critical condition because she does not have the right to move outside the home without a male escort. In the very near future there will not be any female employees able to assist other women in need. Let's take a moment to think about what it must feel like to be a girl in Afghanistan right now and ask ourselves, what is our responsibility to them? 

Sajia Yaqouby is a member of the class of 2025.5.