A Zan Times interview with Tamana Zaryab Paryani
Tamana Zaryab Paryani was a founder of the women’s protest movements against the Taliban after the militants regained power in August 2021. Four months later, on January 19, 2022, Taliban intelligence stormed her family’s apartment and arrested her and her three sisters. The Paryani sisters spent 26 days in detention.
After releasing the Paryani sisters, the Taliban banned them from leaving the country. Still, the sisters and their parents decided they had to leave. With great difficulty, they snuck into Pakistan and now have refuge in Germany where they have continued raising their voices and continue to participate in the struggle against the Taliban.
Zahra Nader, the editor-in-chief of Zan Times, talked with Tamana Zaryab Paryani on March 1, 2023. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Zan Times: The name of Tamana Zaryab Paryani is familiar to many in Afghanistan. What kind of experiences did you go through to become a voice in the Afghan women’s struggle?
Tamana Zaryab Paryani: Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you. As a girl who was born in Afghanistan to a strongly religious family, everything has been difficult for me. Because we were girls, we were not allowed to go to school, let alone do other activities. The only person who bravely stood by us and refused to let us fall behind in studying and progressing was my mother. My mother coped with an extremely patriarchal and somewhat overbearing family. She endured a terrible life but she persevered and did not let us be left behind. We spent our school years facing many problems, especially me and my sister, Zarmina. The three of us – my mother, my sister and me – fought hard and, with great effort and persistence, we were able to pass that stage.
Many challenges remain from both families and the community. The more women remain silent within their families and in the society, the more their rights will be violated, not only within their families but also in the society. I think it will be a long struggle until women win their equal human rights. Among these challenges includes the horror of imprisonment by the Taliban. My sisters and I were imprisoned for asking for equal rights for women and human freedom, which is the natural right of all women. I left my homeland because there was no way for me to continue my efforts under the Taliban regime
ZT: I want to know what helps you keep your strength and allows you to keep standing, especially after all those experiences that you have endured. Have you noticed a difference in your steadfastness and struggle before and after prison?
Paryani: I am human. Sometimes I get tired and doubtful,but what has always been important to me has been our human freedom. When I was in Kabul, living under the noses of the Taliban, we recorded and broadcast videos and also protested. We were very fearless. The Taliban shot at our feet, hit us on our backs with rifle butts, whipped us, and pepper sprayed us but the next day we went back to the same road with more energy than the previous day to protest for our rights.
While protesting in Kabul, I always had in my mind the possibility of going to jail, being tortured, or dying on the street. And I was ready. Our hands were empty and in front of us was a group that had guns and weapons and who could harm us. At the same time, I didn’t want to live at home like a slave and be silent about everything and not have freedom.
What I experienced is what hundreds of other women are currently experiencing in prison. At least I can be their voice. I always believe that a woman’s voice, a person’s voice, is like a bullet that is fired at terrorists.
If I say, “It has nothing to do with me” and other women say, “It has nothing to do with me” then there will be millions of [imprisoned] women. But if just one person wants to protest and raise their voice, there will be millions of voices. Sometimes a movement must begin with just one person to become a movement.
I think that every citizen and every woman who remains silent in the face of atrocities is supporting the terrorists and supporting the patriarchal society that has trampled on women’s human rights for years. If I don’t stand up for my rights as a woman, no one else will – oppressors don’t voluntarily give up. They doused us with pepper spray, whipped us, shouted obscenities at us in the streets, in prison, and now on social media. But we should not be silent, we should always fight firmly for our rights. We must fight against the Taliban.
ZT: The women of Afghanistan have bravely stood up against the Taliban in the last year and a half. I want to know how, why, and for what purpose this protest movement of women was formed?
Paryani: When we started the protests, the Taliban were committing war crimes in Panjshir, where many pregnant women lost their lives because they were not even allowed to go to the hospital. Later they closed schools down, banned women’s work, and tried to confine women to home. Many took part in the protests to demand their right to return to work, to school, and university. In a situation in which a woman cannot be self-sufficient, she will be forced to sell her body or become a thief to feed herself.
On August 20, 2021, I established the Afghanistan Women’s Civil Rights Movement, but after I was released from prison I changed the name to Liberation Women’s Movement. We were not only struggling against the Taliban but also against the dominant family values that originate from archaic and religious beliefs that consider women’s equality to be blasphemy.
ZT: In your opinion, what have been the shortcomings of the women’s movement after its formation, and how is it possible to solve those problems so that it can successfully press the women’s agenda?
Paryani: Afghan women started the struggle with infinite courage, even though they knew the dangers to themselves and to their families. Some of them had small children at home or were unemployed and poor, yet they paid for markers and posters and took to the streets to protest. However, lack of experience was a real problem. Such a struggle may seem simple to those from the outside, but it is difficult when you are standing on the street and there are male passers-by as well as Talibs shouting obscenities at you. As well, we are facing a ruthless group that has had no duty but to kill and create carnage.
ZT: You have mentioned that arrests and torture could not stop women’s protests but that it was weakened by internal mistrust. Given this, how can women continue to demand their rights?
Paryani: Though I was tortured in prison, my family endured horrible conditions, and my sisters were captured, I still contacted the other women protesters a few months after I was released from prison. I wanted to start over. The situation was painful but I stayed in Kabul for almost seven months.
I had only two options: either stay at home and remain silent or leave Afghanistan and speak out. I chose the second option. Exile is painful, but at least I can speak and protest – those are the only positive things I have. I can’t stand that I am free while women are in captivity elsewhere, not only in Afghanistan, I don’t feel like I’m free.
ZT: You criticized members of the international community for providing monetary aid to the Taliban. What role does the international community play in Afghanistan, considering that Afghan women are being deprived of their fundamental rights?
Paryani: Unfortunately, the handover of Afghanistan to the Taliban showed us a clear picture of the world’s hypocrisy. We saw how a terrorist group now rules the country even though their leaders’ names have been on blacklists of important countries for years. The world has contributed to the current disaster. The $40 million a week that the Taliban receive from foreign countries is an apparent sign of support for the Taliban.
I think that the only saviour of the people is the people. Just as they are standing up against the Taliban, they should also question the United Nations about handing over money to the Taliban, while the people are suffering extreme poverty.
ZT: The international community says that this aid is for the people of Afghanistan. But you say that this aid is for the Taliban – can you explain what you mean?
Paryani: Little aid reaches the poor people of Afghanistan. Don’t you see that families sell their daughters? Don’t you see that people sell their kidneys? Don’t you see that even previously well-off people sell their household items to buy food?
Today, many ordinary Talibs sport $20,000 wristwatches. Resources are being used to raise a new generation of Taliban. If the world says that this money is for the people of Afghanistan, it is a lie. Do you think that UNAMA is not aware of the situation?
ZT: As we talk, we are on the threshold of International Women’s Day. What is your message for the women of the world and what is your message for the people of Afghanistan, especially women activists?
Paryani: I know that the people of Afghanistan are in a very terrible situation, but they should not remain silent in the face of so much pain and suffering. Even if they get no results, they should not be silent. The only things that can help them are standing up for themselves, raising voices and uniting. You either have human freedom or no life at all.
I hope that the women of the world will be the voices of the women of Afghanistan and stand beside them as they fight for their rights. Human rights institutions and women who have worked for years to get freedom and equal rights in their own countries should stand by the women of Afghanistan so that Afghan women can recharge their energy and not feel so alone.
ZT: Thank you for talking with Zan Times.