- September 9, 2021
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Fahima* endured years of death threats after escaping the grips of her abusive husband, a Taliban fighter who she was forcibly married to when she was 11 or 12 years old in Afghanistan.
Now aged 36, she told i she fears he will find her and kill her for “dishonouring” the family, after insurgents retook control of the country.
Speaking through an interpreter in her home, she said: “I’m worried my husband is roaming the streets freely looking for me. If he finds me he will kill me because of the dishonour and disgrace issue, because I was able to escape.”
So-called “honour killings” are rife in Afghanistan, a worrying trend of violence against women. Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) documented the murder of 238 Afghan women in 2019, 96 of which constituted “honour killings”.
Fahima was sold for marriage to a Taliban fighter by her uncle after he took over the patriarch role in her family following the death of her father.
“My three sisters also faced the same destiny,” she said tearfully, adding that the man she was forced to marry was about 35 to 40 years old at the time, but she was not sure.
She was 14 years old when she gave birth to her first child in Logar province, in a district which she said was a bastion of Taliban rule even after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Fahima went on to have three more children before the age of 20 and described being so young and clueless about childbirth that when she first got pregnant, “I was thinking my child will come out through my mouth.”
She managed to escape to Kabul with her children after the US invasion, but was left stranded with no support network and no money.
It was only when she stumbled across a Turkish beauty workshop that she decided to enrol and learn the skill of make-up artistry. It enabled her to learn how to live independently, and allowed her to earn a living and provide the best possible chance for her children.
In 2005, her dreams were realised when she opened her beauty salon, eventually building a team of 10 workers – all female – while also teaching hundreds of women make-up skills to help them on their own journeys towards independence – something that had been impossible when the Taliban ruled between 1996 and 2001.
“By the time I stood on my own feet I was able to take care of things independently, autonomously and financially,” she said.
“It’s a taboo having many children from your previous marriage and it’s extremely difficult to get remarried while having a past. Given the traditional society here and reactionary mindset of the people I wasn’t able to get married again.
“I am very proud to provide my kids with an education and that was enough for me, to raise them.”
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While her business flourished, Fahima received death threats from the husband she had fled, who vowed to hunt her down. But she found safety in her success and solace in the women she supported.
However, after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last month, she has remained in hiding with her adult children, unable to leave her home for fear of being captured and killed. “My husband is in the Taliban, he is looking for me everywhere,” she said.
Fahima has closed down her business and is relying on cash savings to support herself and her family until she can figure out a way to flee the country.
Her business has been vandalised, with black paint defacing posters of women outside. She believes she will never be able to reopen it again.
“After the Taliban took over again, my hopes and wishes shattered to a thousand pieces,” she said. “Women’s freedom have been snatched away from them.
“Physical violence (against women) is extremely high. I used to have a lot of customers and I was able to provide them with a livelihood but all the hard-earned gains from the past 16 years have just disappeared from my very own eyes.
“The Taliban can’t be trusted, I see no future for myself and no place in this society.”
*Name changed to protect identity
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