The month they spent under Taliban rule was one of the darkest chapters of the lesbian couple’s lives.
Afghanistan’s LGBTQ community had been marginalised for the last 20 years under Western-backed governments, but now with the Taliban in control again, the women had well-founded fears for their safety.
The day Kabul fell, the couple were out shopping. “Things changed all of a sudden. Kabul was not the same as yesterday, in just two to three hours. We were devastated. Our bad days had started. I told [my girlfriend] that we will not be able to live anymore,” one of the women, 21, said.
“I had heard some stories about the Taliban but it was the first time I was seeing them closely. I was so scared,” said the woman’s 23-year-old partner. “I wished to live freely.”
Like thousands of other Afghans, they made many unsuccessful attempts to flee the country via Kabul’s airport in the chaotic days that followed the Taliban’s return to power. Eventually, with the help of an international organisation, they were able to reach neighbouring Pakistan, from where they spoke to VICE World News via WhatsApp calls.
Life was difficult for women like the 20-somethings, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, even before the Taliban’s return. LGBTQ protections were never enshrined in law under the Western-backed governments. Former lawmakers believed that the rights of the LGBTQ community should be dealt with under Sharia, Islamic law. An ex-girlfriend of the 23-year-old woman was beaten by members of her family after they discovered their relationship. The ex was then forced to marry a man, the 23-year-old said.
The 21-year-old, who was studying at an Afghan university when the city fell, realised she was gay five years ago. She has had no contact with her parents or brothers – all of whom moved to Europe well before the Taliban takeover – for many years. No one in her family knows that she is gay.
“When I was enrolled at university, I rented a room in Kabul,” she said. “My roommate was an 18-year-old girl. I used to watch lesbian porn movies at nights. One night my phone’s sound got loud suddenly, and my roommate asked me what I was watching. Initially, I didn’t have a clear response to her, but I realised that she was also interested in girls.”
The women met in 2018 at a restaurant in Kabul. “A friend of mine introduced her to me and said she was a lesbian. I was happy when I first talked to her and we decided to live together,” the younger woman said. “I enjoy every minute of being with [her].”
Both women said they were brought up in what they described as “extremely traditional” family environments.
“I was living in a traditional society and my feeling and interest for girls was annoying for me. I always heard that being a lesbian is a taboo and a shame and that woman have been born for men and a woman should get married with a man,” the 23-year-old said. “I was often afraid that if I expressed my feelings, it would end with my friends losing their lives.”
The younger woman’s alienation from her family is because she rejected multiple marriage proposals from men. Her girlfriend too had a similar experience.
“My family asked me many times to get married with a man favoured by them but I could never tell them that I have no interest in men and that I want to live with a woman and have relations with a woman and enjoy each other,” she said. Eventually, the older woman said she was forced to cut off all contact with her family, because she refused their request to marry a man.
The new Taliban administration’s view on LGBTQ rights and Afghanistan’s LGBTQ community is brutally clear. Taliban spokesperson Qari Yusuf Ahmadi told VICE World News via WhatsApp: “Islam and sharia’s stance is clear in this regard: same-sex relations are against Islam and we will not allow it.”
Despite facing an uncertain future, the women are at least happy to have escaped “death and Islamist extremism,” and now dream of travelling to a European country, or the US, where they can be legally married, and advocate for the rights of LGBTQ Afghans unable to escape.
“When the Taliban are talking about religion and Sharia, I tell myself that if they are even ignoring basic rights for women, then how will they accept when I say I will get married,” said the 23-year-old. “Girls marrying is not imaginable for the Taliban.”
Shafi Karimi is an Afghan journalist now based in France. Follow him on Twitter here.
UPDATE: This article has been updated.