By Wednesday, Nilufer Ayubi learned that her name was on the Taliban list. She had learned the news from a friend — the same friend who told her on Sunday that the Taliban were going house to door through neighborhoods trying to find women like her, the same friend who had now warned her that it was time to go into hiding. The women on the list were journalists, politicians, pilots, and women entrepreneurs—what they had in common is that they had been talking loud and persistent about Afghan women’s rights, online and IRL, for years.
Al-Ayoubi is one of thousands of women who have built a prosperous and prosperous life for themselves in Afghanistan over the past two decades, but with the fall of Kabul, their success and outspokenness haunt them. Although the United States has long insisted on Afghan women’s rights It will be the cornerstone Of any peace deal with the Taliban, that promise now lies in tatters. With the Taliban asserting their authority over the capital, Al-Ayyubi and other women’s rights advocates were left to fend for themselves.
Earlier that day, August 18, Ayoubi, 28, had smuggled young women who work for her fashion brands into their homes from various points around town by car. It was safer for the women to travel in groups, accompanied by their male co-workers, who now act as de facto bodyguards.
For Al-Ayoubi, one of the first and youngest women in Afghanistan to start her own furniture production company, the bad news was relentless. Her network of friends and activists was constantly on the move with locations where the Taliban had set up checkpoints. She said that 72 hours after the collapse of Kabul, she received a tip that her home and offices had been raided four times by armed men who demanded that employees and neighbors know where her family and property were.
At first, Iwobi was reluctant to let go of everything she’d built – her burgeoning job, her home, and her family. But over the past few days, she has become desperate to take her three children to safety, out of the Taliban’s reach.
“They’re everywhere,” she told BuzzFeed News. “They learned about us from social media and the media, especially those of us who spoke about terrorism during the peace talks in Doha.”
Al-Ayoubi insisted on speaking out despite the danger to her life. “I’ve spoken enough times to be on the wanted list, so speaking now won’t change anything,” she said. “I want to let the world know the current situation.”
Just a few weeks ago, before the Taliban took over Kabul, Ayoubi was on the roof of her building singing with her neighbors and tweeting #AfghanLivesMatter. At the time, she was quoted by the French newspaper Le Monde: “If the Taliban come to Kabul, they will burn everything that we have built in these twenty years. And when I look around, I wonder, what can I take with me? My three children and maybe some clothes.”
Since the fall of the capital, women like Ayubi have been left scrambling to find a way out with their families. Some of her friends have managed to get out of Afghanistan. But the women on the Taliban’s list walk a tightrope where a single misstep could lead to death. When the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were denied education and forced to wear the burqa outside the home. They could not work at all, or even leave the house without a male companion. Punishments for violating this law ranged from public flogging to death.
A document has been circulating across social media and group chats of people trying to figure out how to leave the country. The author, who said they act as an advisor to a government in the region and asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, said the document collects publicly available information about visa procedures as well as advice on security and travel logistics. Obtained from diplomats and other contacts in the country.
“People can submit tips, and I’ll check for accuracy before putting them in,” the document’s author told BuzzFeed News. This information is mostly available but buried. Access to information is a major hindrance.”
But the document, seen by BuzzFeed News, also paints a vivid picture of what it means to navigate the maze of bureaucratic, logistical and personal challenges for Afghans simply trying to reach Kabul International Airport.
The document states that “you should bring as few belongings as possible, no pets.” “Only one piece of small hand luggage (such as a handbag) is allowed, and this is subject to space limitations – there have been occasions where enough space has been tight and no handbag has been boarded.”
Getting to the airport is not easy. The document advises people to arrive at Hamid Karzai International Airport before the 9 p.m. Taliban curfew begins – but since evacuation staff operate 24/7, a passenger’s recorded departure time may fall during curfew hours. The document indicates that there are no flights from Afghanistan from anywhere except Kabul at the present time.
“The US government has emphasized that it cannot guarantee safe passage to the airport: you must make your own arrangements,” she says.
Entering the airport requires showing some paperwork that people often store on their phones, so the document suggests that people print out those essential files and carry an external phone charger. The document states that “the airport entry permit is your lifeline”.
However, he cautions that some of the information he provides may not necessarily be trustworthy, particularly collecting names and organizations that offer to help people escape.
“I have included some contact details below, but I cannot guarantee 100% the authenticity of these projects,” the author wrote. “I would not recommend relying on these benefactors for any Afghans who are at high risk: remember that anyone can create these projects and use them to phish your data, including the Taliban.”
Al-Ayoubi said she did not know when she would try to escape.
As of Friday, she was hiding in a low-income neighborhood with her children, mother, cousins and friends as “loyal employees” of her company guarding the door and bringing them food, she said. In the past, these men had worked for Ayyubi at Nikko Design, a boutique store that sells ornate living room furniture, kids’ bunk beds, garden furniture, and clothing from the Ayyubid brands – Maria Clothing, Maria Bride and Maria Carpet, which ships woven Afghan rugs. Handcrafted all over the world. Now, they are its last defense against the Taliban.
Ayoubi’s foggy days were checking Twitter for updates, venting online, searching for the latest information about safe routes out of the country, then disconnecting and thinking about our “low chance of surviving,” she said. She said she is currently unable to plan for much of the future, but hopes to eventually leave Afghanistan one way or another.
“This is the exact opposite of the life that my children and I lived,” Al-Ayoubi said. “I built my life from scratch, and now we’re back to square one.” ●