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Before the Taliban’s takeover, Gawhar had been preparing for university. Now she spends her days as a carpet weaver in Pakistan.


"During the day, I work as a carpet weaver, but when I return home, my nights are spent writing.”

Afghan Witness changed the name of the individual interviewed.

It is hard for Gawhar, not her real name, to understand how she ended up here. 

She’d lived a “quiet life” before, she tells Afghan Witness. She’d studied hard at school; in tenth grade, she won a gold medal in a global mathematics competition. Later on, she was learning English and taking preparation programmes for the university entrance exam. 

At 19 years old, she now weaves carpets for a living in Pakistan.

"I wanted to become fully educated and be an independent woman," she says. 

“I wanted to become a journalist in a local media agency. A fellow female classmate wanted to become a doctor – unfortunately, all of us became hopeless.”

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan changed everything for Gawhar. Her city, Mazar-i-Sharif, in the northern province of Balkh, fell to the Taliban on August 14, 2021. The group seized power in the capital, Kabul, the next day. 

Gawhar’s father and brother both worked as journalists and had covered issues relating to the former Afghan security forces – making them particularly vulnerable with the Taliban back in power. 

Gawhar says she and her family were fearful of reprisal.

“That was the longest night of my life,” she adds.    

No school for girls  

Gawhar’s father sent the family away to the Shuldara district of Balkh province to escape the chaos in the city. Gawhar was anxious to return to her studies but was told that she could not attend classes until further notice.  

While the Taliban reopened schools for boys of all ages in September 2021, classrooms remained closed for Afghanistan’s secondary school girls, with the group stating that they needed to create “a safe learning environment” before older girls could return to school. 

Girls’ secondary schools were due to reopen in March 2022, but the Taliban U-turned on the decision, and they have since remained closed. 

Gawhar says she was able to temporarily resume some of her studies at a language learning centre, but girls were required to adhere to a strict dress code and were instructed by their teachers to hide their books and enter the classroom discreetly to avoid being seen by Taliban fighters. 

“We needed to sit all the way at the back of the class, in the shadows, so if the Taliban came, either they won’t see us, or if they see us, they won’t notice that we didn’t obey the dress code. The whole focus was on male students while studying in the class.”

After attending for a month or so, Gawhar says the academic centre also closed its doors to female students. 

As well as restrictions on girls’ education, the Taliban issued a ban on long-distance road trips for solo women in December 2021, and the following May, women were ordered to cover their faces in public.

“Restrictions became severe in Mazar-i-Sharif, we [women and girls] were no longer able to freely move around our city.” 

Gawhar’s family were also increasingly vulnerable due to her father and brother’s work as journalists. 

“My brother was beaten once by the Taliban when he was covering the women’s protest in Mazar-i-Sharif – life was becoming extremely tough and frightening.”

Leaving Afghanistan 

Gawhar's family decided to leave Afghanistan and seek safety in neighbouring Pakistan. They sold their belongings to cover the cost of visas and arrived in Islamabad after crossing the border into Pakistan in June 2022. 

The family moved to a remote area of Pakistan where rent and food was slightly lower than in the capital. Although they have left Afghanistan, Gawhar and her sister have struggled to find opportunities to study or work in Pakistan. Their lack of knowledge of the local language and economic issues forced them to find work as carpet weavers in a factory. 

“I never thought that one day, all of my thoughts would be around survival and finding work to buy food.”

A gruelling work schedule, combined with financial struggle and uncertainty over her future has taken its toll on Gawhar’s mental health.

“Over the past year, most nights I go to bed with tearful eyes thinking about my future and ask myself, is that what you will become – a carpet weaver? It is very difficult – this situation creates severe mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.” 
Gawhar and her sister have faced difficulties finding opportunities in Pakistan, and now work as carpet weavers.

Finding solace in writing

Despite the difficulties she faces, Gawhar clings to the one constant in her life: writing. 

"During the day, I work as a carpet weaver, but when I return home, my nights are spent writing.”

For three years, she has been writing about women’s rights and her own experiences as an Afghan woman. Since the Taliban’s takeover, she says even her writing has taken a “hopeless angle”. 

“I write about my experiences, dreams, and how life has changed for myself and many other women and girls.”

She also writes about other women who, like her, are currently weaving carpets despite their qualifications and aspirations. Gawhar uses pseudonyms for their safety and sends the stories to Afghan media outlets. So far, she says more than ten of her articles have been published. 

While she faced restrictions on her rights in Afghanistan, Gawhar faces economic limitations in Pakistan. She cannot afford to buy notebooks, so instead writes on her phone.

“I see other girls are studying, learning English by attending language courses – but I cannot do anything in Pakistan due to financial issues.” 

Gawhar describes her future as “uncertain” – she says her family feels alone in Pakistan. They have contacted various organisations for support but have not heard back. 

In a situation where she feels her options have been taken away, Gawhar turns to her writing as a form of escape. 

“I still write and want to write more; it is the only way I express my thoughts and the only tool to take out the pain in my heart.”

Interview by Afghan Witness


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