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It is the time to break the silence and speak our truth

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan 358 days ago and started rebuilding its sexist and violent dystopia, we found ourselves shocked and traumatized. It was hard to believe we were again subjected to the rule of the most misogynist movement of our time. 

As we write this, an estimated 20 million girls and women have lost their human rights under a “mullahcracy” that believes in the inherent superiority of one sex over all others, determined to institutionalize rabid, violent sexism. In their second week in power, they ordered women to stay home. In their second month in power, they banned teenage girls from schools, dismantled all systems of support for women and girls, forbade their protests and denied their rights to social and political participation. In their fourth month, they denounced the autonomy of all women and girls, including the right to travel unless accompanied by a close male relative. Eight months into their rule, women and girls lost the right to choose their clothes and were ordered to cover their faces in public. 

Yet, despite the repressions and violence, Afghan women formed the most consistent and courageous opposition to the Taliban policies through civil and peaceful means. From the beginning, they came to the streets with a motto “Work, Food, Freedom.” The Taliban beat, kidnapped, tortured, disappeared, and killed many to silence the movement. But the girls and women of Afghanistan refused to give up their resistance. Now, every woman and girl who steps out of her home with an uncovered face is engaging in an act of resistance, defying the Taliban’s gender apartheid. 

Now, under the Taliban repression of the media, a silent epidemic of femicide is engulfing the country. In fact, the Taliban uses femicide as a means to get rid of women who dare to defy their rule and exist outside their defined parameters. The Taliban’s system of terror and media repression is working to ensure the suppression of information about the disappearances and murders of women and girls, whose mutilated bodies are being found across the country. 

We watch it all in disbelief and anger, forced to choose between death and death. Under the Taliban, there is no hope for life, at least not for girls and women. An intact flesh is not a sign of life when even the right to education, our only chance to personal growth and social mobility, is taken away from us. 

Even before the Taliban returned, things were never good for women and girls in Afghanistan, but there was hope that we would build a future we deserved in our country. It was with that hope that millions of girls entered schools and women did all they could to contribute to the building of a better place for us all. That is impossible under the Taliban

What is perhaps more painful than the misery the Taliban continues to impose on us is the role of the so-called international community that, despite their occasional statements of “concern,” continues to facilitate and normalize the Taliban by giving them international platforms and rubbing salt to the wounds of Afghan people.

We, the people of Afghanistan, women, and other marginalized groups, didn’t choose the Taliban. In fact, we never had a chance to choose our leaders, to have a say on what is happening in our country. Foreign interference in our country has historically facilitated the rise of extremist and illegitimate groups to power, and has continuously stifled our people’s aspirations of freedom, equality, and democracy. 

Now, once again, we are forced to live in the leftovers of other countries’ decisions. We are alone, left empty-handed to deal with oppressors that see our existence in society as abnormal and seek to institutionalize our exclusion. 

For the past year, we grieved the collective loss of our rights and freedoms. Now is the time to speak up. It is the time to speak our truth because we have nothing left to lose. We can’t be silent in the face of a regime that denies our humanity and claims that our inferiority is God-given. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to fight back and speak our truth.

Today we launch Zan Times, a platform for us to speak out and speak back to power. Zan Times is born out of our collective anger and frustration with the terms and conditions we are forced to live in. It is born out of the need to reclaim our autonomy, for self-determination, to seek ways to shape and define the future we want to live in, and fight for equality and freedom for all. Zan Times is a platform where women, queer, and other marginalized groups inform, shape, and influence public discourse.

Zan Times is not only about covering the different ways we all suffer under the Taliban, but to document how we are fighting for our rights. It is about leaving a legacy for the generation to come. The conditions we are forced to live in are not of our making but we have a choice to make: suffer in silence or speak our truth. 

Even if our speaking up might not change our immediate condition, it will leave a history for the next generation, which will see that we did not give up in the face of oppression, that even in the darkest pages of our history, we didn’t cease to envision a society where all humans — regardless of their sex, ethnicity, and religion — would be treated equally. It might be a long and difficult journey, but we must start it somewhere and work unceasingly for what we believe in. We must come together to fight for what we deserve: the future we want to build in our country.