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Australia’s Afghan community fear for women and Hazara’s now under Taliban control

PHOTO: Joel Heard/Unsplash

THE US-led war in Afghanistan came to a swift close this week as Taliban fighters seized power in Kabul.

Following the American withdrawal from Afghanistan after twenty years of occupation, cities fell to the Taliban in rapid succession and the country was plunged into turmoil.

The western occupation of Afghanistan cost over one trillion US dollars since 2002 and is America’s longest war.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended Australia’s participation in the war in Afghanistan.

“It’s always Australia’s cause to fight for freedom, and whatever the result, whatever the outcomes of that, Australians have always stood up for that,” he said.

The return of the Taliban has sparked international concerns over the protection of women, minority’s rights, and religious pluralism.

The brutal rule of the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s was marked by the imposition of strict Islamic law which forbade women from appearing in public unveiled, required male guardianship, and severely limited women’s access to education.

Founder of Afghan Australian Development Organisation Dr Nouria Salehi AM has worked tirelessly to provide Afghan women with opportunities for education and vocational training.

“In 2002 when the Taliban fled, I went to Afghanistan with one aim: to take part in education, especially science education,” Dr Salehi said.

Dr. Salehi is a scientist and humanitarian who established the iconic Afghan Gallery Restaurant in Fitzroy in 1983.

She used her restaurant business to sponsor Afghan families to come to Australia.

The Afghan Australian Development Organisation began science teacher training programs in 2007 with the support of the Afghan government.

“Between 2007 and today we trained 4700 science teachers in seven provinces.” Dr Salehi said

“This is my aim, my goal, and my dream.

“I don’t want to stop.

“Today as we speak, we have five projects running for women.

“They are in class this week.”

Western intervention in Afghanistan enabled a generation of Afghan women and girls to safely access education, but many fear the return of the Taliban may mean the gains of the last two decades will be eroded.

Tamanna Qarar is a Hazara woman and structural engineer who left Afghanistan in 2014 to pursue civil engineering studies at RMIT University.

Ms Qarar fears for the Hazaras, an ethnic group who have long been persecuted in Afghanistan and have been the target of recent Taliban attacks.

“The target is on [the] Hazaras,” she said.

“We look different, our religion is different, and as long as my grandparents can remember we have been a minority.

“We have never been accepted by Afghan people.”

Three explosions killed nearly one hundred Hazara schoolgirls in Kabul in May.

In June, a string of minivan bombings in Hazara majority neighbourhoods claimed more lives.

Like Dr. Salehi, Ms Qarar believes the empowerment of Afghan women is an indelible right that is in jeopardy under Taliban control.

“It’s getting better,” she said.

“Or it was; Hazara communities especially encourage women to go to universities.

“Because we don’t have power in government, education is the only tool that Hazaras have to develop and improve and make a better life for ourselves.

“To make this generation better than the last.”

Australia is home to over 50,000 Hazara people, many of whom fled Afghanistan when the Taliban first took power in the 1990s.

During the catastrophic 2020 bushfires, the Victorian Hazara community raised almost $160,000 for their “brothers and sisters” in bushfire ravaged areas.

As an ethnic group that hold liberal values and promote education, the Hazara’s pose a challenge to Taliban dogma and are now at a significant risk.

The Australian government has signalled that some 3000 Afghans will be resettled here.

Australia is urged to follow the lead of Canada and the United States who have confirmed they will take 20,000 and 30,000 refugees respectively.

Stark parallels are being drawn between the end of the Vietnam war in the mid 1970s when Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser chose to welcome over 100,000 Vietnamese refugees to Australia.

Avenues to support Afghanistan in this complicated time are plentiful.

“The best way to support Afghanistan today is through diaspora organisations,” said Dr. Salehi.

The Afghan Australian Development Organisation is seeking donations via its website, which go directly to Afghanistan to support its educational projects.

“When I take money from people it goes straight to Afghanistan, and we spend it on our projects and on our teachers,” Dr. Salehi said.

The Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan has created a valuable resource kit with important information and opportunities for Australians to take action.

Included are letter templates to use for contacting their local MP to advocate for increased resettlement of Afghan refugees.

“It’s against humanity if they don’t help,” Ms Qarar said.

“All anyone can do now is escape.

“And leaving your own country is the hardest thing to do.”

Donations can be made at www.aado.org.au

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Amelia Costigan

Amelia is a freelance writer and researcher who writes about the intersections of politics, the media and popular culture. In her academic research, she has studied the complex relationship between social media and democracy. Amelia also works as an English and Literature tutor and has a passion for education policy.

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