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How life has changed for Afghan women and girls since the Taliban takeover

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Now that the Taliban are back in power in Afghanistan, they have shut women out of the workforce and kept girls from going to school, but they have not kept them from speaking out. We're going to hear now from a woman named Pashtana Durrani. She is a teacher and women's rights activist in Kandahar. Rachel Martin recently talked to her about an essay that she wrote for a New Lines Magazine about what Afghan women are facing now. On the day they spoke, a bomb went off in a mosque in Kandahar, killing dozens of people.

PASHTANA DURRANI: To be honest, at this point, one cannot be sure all the time because every other minute, you get a call and your heart stops because it's something heartbreaking.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: What is the feeling in the city? Have you been able to even go outside, or is that a bad idea for women after the Taliban takeover?

DURRANI: It's not a bad idea to go out. Women still go out. They go for shoppings. They continue with their normal lives for normal housewives. But then other women who would work, who are teachers or professors who have worked in government or worked at NGOs like me, who go to universities, they are not able to do their normal routine work. My university is closed down, so I can't go to that. My work, I'm not supposed to go there until the Taliban allow it. So on one side, yes, life is unchanged. All women can go out, do shopping, do whatever. On the other, they can't do what they used to do - move outside, mobilize, socialize and work.

MARTIN: You wrote in the piece for New Lines Magazine that you have moved seven times since the Taliban took power. Why?

DURRANI: So here's the thing - I don't want to be like, you know, critical of the fact that, OK, the Taliban are going to come after me and murder me. It's just like, you know, at this point, yes, they have shown that they will attack any woman who talks because there was another woman in Kandahar who was talking and she was - her home was attacked - so a lot of mixed feelings, to be honest. And I moved for my own safety, for my family's safety, for my staff's safety because these are all people associated with me, and I don't want them to be caught up in the middle of crossfire because of my political views or the stances that I hold.

MARTIN: So you are a teacher. The nonprofit that you run or used to run is called LEARN. And it's all about encouraging girls to study science and technology. Did you just have to shut it all down?

DURRANI: I didn't. I didn't. I used to run 18 schools. Now I run one school, to be honest. We are doing it all through our network and underground. But I haven't stopped. I can't stop living because somebody else is in power. The other government was corrupt, too, but I couldn't stop - right? - because they were in power or this government is in power. I still have to exist. I still have to continue. I am responsible for my students, and I'm supposed to continue with that.

MARTIN: How many students do you have? I mean, are girls able to go to school?

DURRANI: No, no, no, no. The girls are not allowed to go to school. We are running an underground school. We have around 100 students that come in morning and evening batches, and it's all underground. Girls are not allowed to go to school. And that's one thing that's concerning because this should have been the last resort that they should have resorted to where they are using it as a bargaining chip for political means, you know?

MARTIN: So when you say you're running an underground school, what are the repercussions if the school and the students were to be found out?

DURRANI: See, we're not doing something illegal. Right now, they haven't said that you can't run a school, right? All they have done is open the boys school and neglected the girls school, which is legally a loophole. And I'm going to be honest, I'm exploiting it. Even if they result to repercussions (ph), where they harass the teachers and all that, there are people who would like, you know, stand up.

MARTIN: How do you advocate with the Taliban? You have been a vocal supporter of women's rights. You are still running some of your programs. Are you trying to engage with the Taliban at all? Can you?

DURRANI: I can't. I can't because I'm not allowed to go to my office. If I don't have a formal space to welcome them in - in our society and culture, we don't just ask the government to come to our house and talk to us and engage to us. And I can't go to their houses either. And to be honest, at this point, that's pragmatically - I'm, like, you know, one of those people who are talking against them. And if I go in front of them, my voice will be influenced one way or the other.

MARTIN: So if you go and talk to the Taliban, they could twist your words. Explain that.

DURRANI: It's less of twisting. Right now, see, you have to look at everything objectively. They want to be seen good. And if a woman goes to them and is not accepted and they don't like her thoughts, but they know that she's influential, they can use her voice, and that's what they did with Dr. Rahim Ramadi (ph). They made her talk...

MARTIN: And tell me who she is.

DURRANI: She is a humanitarian and she's a doctor. They attacked her house, and when she came live on Facebook, they forced her into giving a testimony where she was like, oh, I'm safe and everything, don't worry about me. And I know her. And she told me - I still have her voice messages where she told me that, OK, no, they forced me into it. I don't want my voice to be influenced.

MARTIN: May I ask how old you are Pashtana?

DURRANI: I'm 23 years old, so I was not even born when the Taliban were in power, and by the time they were gone, I barely knew what Taliban were.

MARTIN: Right. So you grew up in this time of possibility.

DURRANI: Yeah.

MARTIN: And you were able to dream dreams about what a life could be for a young woman in Afghanistan.

DURRANI: Of course, yes.

MARTIN: How do you talk to young girls now about what their future might be?

DURRANI: See, the past few decades have not been all rainbows and unicorns, to be honest, at this point. Last two decades, we have lost family members, we have lost houses, we have lost roots, we have lost places that we call home, right? So it hasn't been an easy journey. We talk about women rights and everything. But at the end of the day, how many women were able to access all those rights? That's the point. I was one of the privileged ones to access those rights. So, yes, I grew up with possibilities, but I also grew up with privilege. And now all these girls, they somehow already had that sort of control because of the social construct that we have in our country, but also at the same time, all those women rights were just limited. So, yeah, I want to talk to these girls. I don't tell them, oh, we will liberate or we will bring in revolution and stuff like that. I just tell them that slow and steady wins the race because back in the day, Taliban were in power and they lost it. Today, they are in power. They'll probably lose it again. And that's how governments work in Afghanistan. If you study our political patronage (ph), they lose every 20 years. So I'm just hopeful they will lose it again.

MARTIN: Pashtana Durrani, thank you so much for your time.

DURRANI: Of course. Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORRE'S "REFUGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.