Women Without A Movement

Khalilah Sabra
5 min readAug 21, 2021

Kābul River, in eastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan, is 435 miles long, of which 350 miles are in Afghanistan. The Kābul River valley is known for more than a natural route for travel between Afghanistan and Pakistan; a riverbed became a graveyard for women caught in a powerful undertow from which they could not escape. Rape was the weapon the Russian soldiers used to terrorize its enemy civilian populations and demoralize enemy troops. This action imposed the worst kind of humiliation on the victims that lasted after the war was over. It was inflicted to shatter their dignity and devastate their souls. It was not about gratification. It was a calculated, deliberate, and vicious exercise of power over vulnerable targets.

However, there is another factor in the present situation that, though everybody has forgotten, merit importance. There were two types of female resistance. One where women assumed the role of a warrior, often to discover they needed to adjust to training dates, maneuvering on the front lines, or even how to approach the enemy without collapsing in fear. In almost every case, those who migrated to the war zone needed to learn new skills to help them survive. Learning to recognize and label their anger and put them where they belonged in some constructive way became essential for their personal survival, the rest of the troops, and their children’s future. Other women threw themselves in the Kābul River to avoid being captured, beaten, and assaulted by Russian invaders with weapons totally superior to anything they had ever known.

We were a group of aid workers recruited by the Red Crescent Society to travel past the Afghan border. We took our orders from the Maktab al-Khadamat (Services Office). We lived in Peshawar’s guest houses inside the paramilitary training camps. Osama Bin Laden sat like an office fixture, unable to contain his ego. He was more concerned with accelerating his power base than being a source of change, plotting to kill off his competitors. As a result, he was deaf to the women and children inside the Afghan refugee camps near the war front as he did his political bidding of his Saudi benefactors. Let us not forget that they are the sponsors of the tragedy of 9/11. Who except for Osama Bin Ladin and Saudi Arabia are relevant factors in that day’s destruction?

However, our protection rested with the legitimate leaders of the Mujahideen, which he was not a part of, as we traveled to the largest refugee camp for women and children. I was unprepared for the trauma of the faces of orphaned children, mothers whose young daughters could not guard against the depths of the river. Um-Aisha was a grandmother of three young children and a 15-year-old girl, whose eyes mirrored iron in a fire as she looked towards the small young sibling left behind by her mother whom the river swallowed during her escape attempt. When aircraft appeared and hovered in the sky Um Aisha ran with the toddlers but this young girl unhesitantly pushed me down in the dirt and covered me with her body which was barely able to cover mine. It was as if she was she was trying to protect me from a pain that was uniquely her own and in some meaningful way she might be able to lessen the potential harm to another.

Excerpt From: Unknown. “Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life.” Apple Books.If there is one thing learned from the 80s, it is how disastrously complex any move for salvation must be. Turn the time machine to 2021, and the Afghan women remain forced to maneuver themselves against not only those nations which ignore their humanitarian needs, but they also struggle against those cultural powers that have forced anonymity behind the mesh of veiled faces and from Westen powers. When one looks at the totality of foreign policy directly affecting women in that country, American offers of aid and the conditions attached to them have surpassed action.

Afghan women have remained far from exemptions from the punishment of the injurious consequences of a prolonged war. Since the early 1980s, mothers taught their daughters not to be sexually assaulted with a sense of doom, a sense that they were fighting a losing battle. Contrary to common expectations, the Soviet government was unable to destroy Afghan resistance.

Like most women everywhere, they struggled to utilize every educational tool available to them. The goal was not to have power over men but over themselves. Besides the power that education brings, Afghan women sought two other sources of strength. One protected them against sexual assault, which results from the actual force and control over another human being. The second is protection against the crime of cultural incompetence. After decades the perpetrators have changed, but control over their being remains.

Afghan women may have a difficult time trusting America with its extended olive branch after 9/11. Muslim women wearing traditional Islamic headscarves in the United States found themselves entrapped at the intersection of religious intolerance and the wave of anti-Muslim bigotry that washed over the country. The awakened anger of the Afghan Muslim women who buried their children after the bombs hit Afghanistan remains unexpressed towards the United States military, whose control became an unavoidable presence in their lives. Not all American soldiers saw Afghan women as victims of cultural oppression. They were the enemy as much as any Afghan man to some troops.

The women we suddenly are mindful of embracing are Afghan, but the majority are practicing Muslim women. Although the United States is a nation that boasts religious freedom, many of her Muslim counterparts have found it unsafe to practice Islam. As a result, Muslim women throughout this country retired their Hijabs and headdresses in fear of harm. Since September 11th, national security, immigration policy, and terrorism have been at the forefront of every politician’s campaign. Seeing Muslims as not loyal, voicing prejudice against Muslims, and avoiding Muslims as neighbors are generally shared by a subset of the general population but substantial enough to draw both attention and concern. A truce must be called on two fronts. First, combat is a merciless arbiter in international feuds and has lost much of its effectiveness and wiped out lives. Second, few things are more frightening than the unwavering support for weapons of mass destruction increasing supported in the councils of government during the last decades. The issue is not that their decisions are cold-blooded enough to “think the unthinkable,” but that they do not think about the consequences of their actions.

At this stage of America’s military journey in Afghanistan, leaders must attempt to listen very carefully to those sitting in the seat of leadership and, whenever possible, to let their voices and judgments and their longings negotiate a place within their plans for their nation. After all, the leaders are Afghan, and Afghanistan is their country. If done with legitimacy and not with the intent the US had when it financed a proxy war, the administration will find a way within the Afghan nation’s dialogue about their destinies. By pursuing this effort, we will have initiated change and done all of its people justice.

Khalilah Sabra (@khalilahsabra)



Khalilah Sabra

Dr. Khalilah Sabra, LL.M, (@khalilahsabra): Muslim American Doctorate in International Law, Executive Director (MAS Immigrant Justice Center)