An Afghan girl’s despair

Girls I met during a 2016 visit to Afghanistan

Recently I heard a voice that broke my heart. A young girl in Afghanistan broke down live on air as she spoke of her ruined future. “All my dreams are ruined. There’s nothing left,” Tarah, not her real name, told the BBC’s Nuala McGovern in an extraordinary interview.

Tarah said her life had been left in tatters after the Taliban seized power in August. No longer allowed to attend high school, her hopes and aspirations had been derailed. Dreams of further studies, leading to a professional career, had crumbled overnight. But that’s not even the worst of it.

Tarah’s father lost his job and is in hiding and her mother can’t get the medical treatment she needs. Left without an income, the family sold all the household furniture to keep themselves fed. Tarah is the only one able to leave the house to buy food. It’s just too dangerous outside.

These are terrible burdens for any young woman to bear. Yet while dealing with her family’s dramatic change in fortunes, she must also come to terms with a darkening future. All her efforts to learn English, hoping to one day become a teacher, or a journalist, now seem in vain.

Tarah said her only dream now is to leave Afghanistan. She hopes for a place where she can learn, her father can work, and her mother can get treatment. Her voice cracking in despair, she told the world she would rather die than stay where she is. Her desperate appeal moved me to my core.

I met girls like Tarah in my visits to Afghanistan. They grew up in an age of hope for girls who were attending school in record numbers and graduating universities into all kinds of professions. Back in 2001, there were hardly any girls in school. Before the Taliban took over there were almost 4 million in classrooms across the country.

Tarah’s aspirations, along with those of millions of other Afghan girls, must be protected. My UNICEF colleague in Afghanistan, Sam Mort recently tweeted, “homework, not housework for Afghan girls.”

Today, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres told the press, “I am particularly alarmed to see promises made to Afghan women and girls by the Taliban being broken.” He added, “broken promises lead to broken dreams for the women and girls of Afghanistan,” calling on the Taliban to recognize there is no way their economy and society will recover without recognizing their preponderant role.

We want to see Afghan girls back in school as soon as possible. The UN has pledged to keep fighting for the rights of Afghan women and girls. Our staff remain on the ground, delivering for the people there. We will continue to raise the voices of Afghan girls and women, support them in their leadership roles, and use their experiences to inform our decisions.

And, as we consider our next steps, we would do well to remember Tarah and her desperate appeal to the world for a lifeline. I know I won’t forget that urgent young voice, full of indignation, innocence, and disappointment. She begged us not to abandon her to a darker future. We won’t.