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Ahzer's Story - Escaping the Taleban's Oppression of Afghan Women - 2001-11-07

We'll call her "Ahzer. " To protect her family in Afghanistan, she asked us not to use her real name or to show her face. Ahzer arrived in the United States in 1999, to live with a relative. She's one of thousands of Afghan women - and men - who have fled the Taleban's radical restrictions on their lives.

"In Afghanistan, the women can't be out," Ahzer says. "If the women be out, the Taleban beat them. I talk about my experience. I was outside of house and the Talib beat me. I can't go to school. I was in school, I had studied, but after the Taleban came, I must be at home. And I left Aghanistan because I didn't have any freedom. It was like I was in jail."

In order to get Ahzer out of Afghanistan, her family arranged for her to marry a man living outside the country. The marriage quickly failed, and Ahzer, who is now 21, has resumed the education that was interrupted when she was a girl in Afghanistan. She knows few people here, and spends most of her time at home studying. She's still in mourning for the people she had to leave behind:

“I must do that, but I was too sad to leave my family, mother, my brothers, and my city and my friends," she says. "It was too sad. I every day think about my family, about my friends, about my school, about the girls and women in Afghanistan."

Before the Taleban took over, Afghan women attended colleges with men and could work at any job. Today, they must wear traditional garb when outside. Shrouded head to toe in mandatory burqas, they can see the world only dimly, through a small mesh screen. Most hospitals and male doctors may not treat women. They are legally barred from work and school. According to human rights groups,a woman who goes outside unaccompanied by a male relative risks being beaten by police.

Last year, the Taleban's then-representative in U.S., Abdul Hakim Mujahid, told VOA that it wasn’t true that Afghan women are not permitted to work – or that they must wear the burqa. “All these reports are not true. I will deny and reject this kind of reports," he said. "Women, they are free in our country. They can come out from their house to the shopping, to their work, to the hospitals, with no companion with her. It is not true that we imposed upon women, burqa. Only that we declared that in Islamic hijab, willing to be observed."

But human rights groups and travelers to Afghanistan say that despite such denials, the Taleban's decrees banning women from public life remain in effect. They, like Ahzer, dispute the Taleban's version of Islam.

"This is not Islam," Ahzer says. "This is bad for Islam. If I say the Taleban are Muslim, I say something bad for Islam. Islam is a beautiful, good religion. I like Islam, I study Islam, I believe Koran, but the Taleban are not."

Along with her anger, Ahzer is still homesick for the land of her childhood. "I even miss the trees, and the smell - rain, wind, everything!" she laments.

But she knows she can never return as long as the Taleban are in power. Instead, she is planning to go to college and to become a war reporter - to be a voice for others, “…and go to those places like Afghanistan, she says, "to talk with those women about what is in their hearts and what they have to say. They are now in jail. They can't study, they can't work, they can't go out. And I am angry because I am one of them. I never forget them. I remember them always and always."