“I don’t want to give up my work and hobbies.”
“I’m not willing to sacrifice my right to watch a football match at the stadium with my friends.”
“I didn’t have a chance to chase my dreams, but my daughter now has this opportunity. I don’t want to sacrifice her future, her rights. That’s my red line.”
Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women have joined an online campaign, #MyRedLine, to speak about the freedoms and rights they are not willing to give up in the name of peace with the Taliban.
#MyRedLine was launched in March by 26-year-old Farahnaz Forotan, who says she wanted to let Afghan decision-makers know that peace cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights, freedoms, and happiness of the nation’s women.
It was an idea that Forotan had first shared with her friends over lunch at a Kabul café early this year. The friends offered support and helped her produce her first video for the campaign.
The video features several young Afghan women and men describing their red lines — often regarding democratic staples like education, freedom of speech, and gender equality.
Forotan, a journalist, says her own red line is her “pen and freedom of expression.”
The campaign, which is supported by the UN Women office in Kabul, comes amid U.S. efforts to negotiate peace with the Taliban.
Women’s rights defenders fear that a Taliban return to power would threaten the freedoms Afghan women attained following the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Started as a small initiative on social media, #MyRedLine become a nationwide campaign that offers Afghan women a platform to share their concerns about increasing talk that a possible peace deal could bring the Taliban back into the fold of society and government.
Thousands of people — activists, politicians, and ordinary citizens — have reacted to the campaign so far.
“I can’t afford to lose my rights at any cost and this is my red line,” @farahestan said in a video she posted on Twitter.
A young artist, Aliya, said in video shared on Twitter: “I am an artist and my red line is my art.”
The campaign also garnered support from many Afghan men concerned about the future of their daughters, wives, and sisters.
“My red line is the achievements of the past 18 years, especially the rights and freedoms of my wife,” said Timor Sharan, a senior government official in a video he shared on social media.
President Ashraf Ghani has contributed as well, saying in a speech in Faryab Province in April that the rights of women are his red line.
Forotan says she wasn’t expecting reactions on “such a large scale.”
“People, young and old, began contacting me to show their support, sending short video clips, posting comments. People call me from provinces and ask if I can visit them,” she told RFE/RL on May 29.
Suspicions Around Campaign
With financial support from UN Women, the campaign has now become a full-time job for Forotan, who travels to provinces to meet with women and men to hear about their red lines for any peace negotiations with the militants.
The UN Women office in Kabul is now hiring a campaign coordinator for #MyRedLine to lead the production of videos from the country’s provinces, where social media is less popular than in the capital.
“People have so much to say,” Forotan tells RFE/RL. “I met a widow in Parwan Province who told me she doesn’t want her daughters to experience the hardship she had in her life. Her daughter’s future is her red line.”
Not all reactions were positive, however. There were misunderstandings and suspicions around her campaign, too.
“Some people claim that women in Kabul talk about [rights and freedoms] as their red line, while for women in provinces whose families are being killed in war such red lines don’t matter,” Forotan says.
Others even accuse the campaign of trying to derail peace efforts with “unimportant” matters, she adds.
Small, Everyday Freedoms
The Taliban has said it is committed to upholding women’s rights under Islam, including the right to education, work, health, inheritance, and choosing one’s husband.
However, in a statement released during a meeting in Moscow in February, the group condemned what it called the spread of immorality under the name of women’s rights in Afghanistan.
In the southern city Kandahar, the one-time capital of the Taliban, 21-year-old Wajiha fears “everything would change for worse [for women] if the Taliban get a say” in government decisions.
“Restrictions would return to every aspect of women’s lives — education, healthcare, and financial well-being just to name the few,” said Wajiha, who gave only her first name.
The development of women’s rights was among Afghanistan’s most lauded achievements after 2001, although violence and discrimination persist.
Millions of girls have enrolled in schools, women have earned seats in both national and regional legislatures, and women have entered the workforce in both government and private sectors.
Then, there are “small freedoms of everyday lives” — such as eating out with friends or having a hobby outside home — that many Afghan women say they cherish most.
For Najiba Ebrahimi, a 22-year-old student in the central city of Bamiyan, the red line is “being an equal member of society.”
Ebrahimi is a member of an amateur curling team and also goes skiing with friends during the winter. Her summertime hobby is cycling.
Ebrahimi tells RFE/RL that she also enjoys socializing with friends and dancing at college events.
“I enjoy being an equal member of society,” Ebrahimi tells RFE/RL. “The Taliban wouldn’t allow women to have a full life.”
Bamiyan is one the most progressive parts of Afghanistan when it comes to women’s participation in the workforce, education, and sports.
Ebrahimi says she can’t imagine life under the Taliban and would leave Afghanistan if the group were to return to power.
Leaving Afghanistan is not an option for Forotan. She has spent many years living as a refugee in Iran with her parents and three younger siblings.
“I have my own country and I love it. I want to serve my nation. I want to take part in building up Afghanistan,” she tells RFE/RL.
Forotan says her main focus will always be on improving Afghan women’s lives and promoting their rights.