Stand up for the women and girls of Afghanistan

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It is tragic that many Afghans who worked for Nato armies and diplomats, all the female journalists, politicians, lawyers, NGO activists etc have not been brought to safety (Editorial, 24 August), but let us not ignore the truly voiceless and most vulnerable to Taliban violence who are now living in terror in remote rural areas as well as in the cities.

These are the widows of all ages, but especially at risk are the women and girls from the Hazara community and other minority groups. The 20-year conflict created millions of widows, but now Covid-19, in a country where only 2% of the population is vaccinated, has become a gigantic widow-maker.

Many of these widows are the poorest of the poor, illiterate, reduced to begging in order to survive, but even that is precarious since the Taliban forbids women from leaving their homes without a male guardian. They have no resources, documentation or transport even to get them to refuge in neighbouring countries. They are weeping as they hide, terrified their young girls will be taken as brides for the Taliban. We need to label these forced child marriages by their real name: rape. These little girls can be given to men old enough to be their grandfathers.

I know not what is the answer. But I write this letter to beg the international community to address not just the plight of the educated, elite, courageous women of Afghanistan, but also those whose voices we need to hear who have no chance of leaving their country.
Margaret Owen
President, Widows for Peace Through Democracy

The international community must heed the call of Afghanistan’s educators (‘Don’t avert your eyes’: Afghan teachers urge world to defend girls’ education, 25 August) and do everything it can to keep education, especially for girls, alive under the Taliban.

To begin, world leaders should support the proposal by the Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, for a common international strategy to be agreed at an extraordinary G20 summit on Afghanistan in September.

That strategy should include a commitment to support education in Afghanistan by: 1) increasing humanitarian and development assistance to ensure schools, which are already largely funded by aid, stay open; 2) providing support to neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Iran for the education of refugee children; 3) growing the number of scholarships, especially for women, to allow them to start and continue their university degrees overseas.

And finally, acceptance by the Taliban of the right to education, specifically for girls, must also be a condition of any recognition of the regime by the international community.
Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly
Executive director, International Parliamentary Network for Education

In 1841, the British diplomat Alexander Burnes was killed by a Kabul mob: the British occupation forces retreated, and from that whole army, only one man reached safety. This week (Taliban close Kabul airport road to Afghans to block their evacuation, 24 August) the Americans sent the CIA director, William Burns, to negotiate with the Taliban leader. The Afghans still remember Burnes and their astounding victory, but perhaps the west has forgotten.
Barbara English
Beverley, East Yorkshire

In a time of such brutality and inhumanity, are we really so inured that we accept a language in which people are “processed” (Boris Johnson: UK will continue with final stages of Kabul airlift, 26 August)? Surely we should say that it is the cases of these people that are processed, acknowledging the dignity and the individuality of these people. Anything else is unworthy of us, and of those we seek to help.
Sarah Mulholland
Goldsithney, Cornwall

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