Afghanistan: exile is the only way for Freshta to stay alive

Freshta Hakimi, Afghan human rights defender, started a new life in Belgium with her mother and young siblings.

Freshta is a strong woman, but in Afghanistan that is often not enough. ‘Without OMCT's support, I would not be alive today,’ she says. Freshta, who since her teens has been a staunch defender of human rights, has always refused to give in to her country’s patriarchal society. But when the Taliban arrived at her home with machine guns, she had no choice but to flee.

Threats and harassment—the life of a family without a man in Afghanistan

Freshta, 23, has never had many options. When she lost her father at the age of 12, she was left with a sick mother, a younger brother and a sister. Women and minors are not allowed to own property, so Freshta's uncles took their inheritance. Freshta had to work to bring home food.

In Afghanistan, a family without a man is a family in danger. In the eyes of Afghan society, Freshta’s duty was to marry to ensure her family’s protection. Refusing to do so meant suffering continual harassment: ‘Everywhere I went, I had to hide the fact that my father was dead, otherwise men would ask me to marry them and threaten to call the Taliban.’ But it’s hard to keep that kind of secret in a country where a man is needed for all formalities, for every journey. Freshta's family was marginalised and lived in constant danger. After seven years of struggling, exhausted, she gave in. ‘I had no choice but to give up, I couldn't fight any more.’

Behind my back, I heard a Taliban shouting: she's running away!

At 19, Freshta got engaged to a man she had never met. ‘I thought I was out of the woods, but I soon realised that my life would be even worse.’ He was a violent drug addict and already had another wife. Freshta refused to marry him, and so the threats started again. Her fiancé's family was powerful and was prepared to go to any length to ruin Freshta—including knocking her down with a car. Freshta was injured. ‘I told my colleagues that it was an accident, but I saw my father-in-law-to-be at the wheel.’

Freshta's fiancé knew the Taliban well. When they took over Afghanistan in August 2021, Freshta and her family were terrified. One day, the armed group burst into the courtyard of their building, shouting: ‘Allahu Akbar.’ Freshta realised they were looking for her. ‘I was only scared of one thing: that they would catch me alive.’ She ran out the back door, followed by her mother, brother and sister. ‘We had a narrow escape. Behind my back, I heard a Taliban shouting: “She's running away!” I still have nightmares about it.’

Speaking out for Afghan women ‘who have no voice’

Freshta and her family hid with friends, but it was an unstable and dangerous solution for their hosts: ‘Our bank accounts were blocked, but the OMCT provided us with the financial support to go to a hotel.’ Our teams also obtained visas for the family of four—all of whom were in grave danger—to leave Afghanistan. Freshta says what touches her the most is knowing that someone, somewhere, cares about her: ‘OMCT is a family to me.’ She recalls her first meeting with Maria, our Human Rights Defenders Support Officer, at Brussels airport: ‘I hugged her so hard it must have hurt her.’

Today Freshta lives in Belgium with her family, where she finally has a choice. ‘I went back to school to study entrepreneurship, and I continue to give a voice to Afghan women who have no voice.’ Freshta believes that Afghanistan is being held hostage by the Taliban's patriarchal rule and that it’s up to Afghan women, who are living this injustice first-hand, to liberate the country. ‘We need more women human rights defenders in Afghanistan,’ she says.

Thanks to your donations, we are working to support these women who continue to make their voices heard despite the obstacles. Thank you for fighting with us for a fairer world for all.

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