Escaping the Taliban with Nila Ibrahimi

15-year-old Hazara activist who narrowly escaped the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Nila Ibrahimi, addresses the 15th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for her remarks.

Full Remarks  

Good morning everyone.

I’m incredibly honored to be here today with you at the Geneva Summit. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my story.

It was August 15, a beautiful sunny day that soon turned dark and cloudy, casting a shadow over the lives of millions of Afghans, especially the girls and women of my homeland. I had woken up early to study for my last mid-year exam at school, scheduled for the next day.  

A few hours after breakfast, my mother heard from the neighbours that the Taliban had reached Dasht-e-Barchi, the district where we lived, and may take over Kabul soon. My mother had lived through the civil war and the first Taliban regime and had made me understand how miserable and frightening that tyranny was. And now, her worried eyes and shaky hands made me even more scared.  

We ran to destroy our family documents that could put our lives at risk, because it was expected that the Taliban would conduct house to house searches. My father, a former government worker, passed away a month after I was born so the photos, uniforms, and documents were the only memories I had of him. As I watched them burn and turn to ashes, it was as if they had never existed, as if he had never existed. My school certificates as well; I felt so angry and sad to be told to destroy them that I decided to take the risk of keeping them. I knew all of this was only the first spark of a fire that was about to consume our whole lives. 

The weight of the situation was overwhelming, and fear took hold of me. My mother is a great person, but she belongs to the generation of women who were subjugated by the Taliban. This created in them a mindset that they had no right to say no, no right to protest or stand up for themselves. They were made to feel like they were incomplete human beings without a man. Now, there were rumours that the Taliban would marry young girls. I felt helpless and scared for what the future held.  

I am Nila Ibrahimi, a 16-year-old women’s rights activist. My journey of advocacy started when the Kabul Education Directorate banned schoolgirls over the age of 12 from singing in public. As a member of the Sound of Afghanistan Music Group, I found this decision disappointing and aggravating. We were singing for peace, women’s rights, and humanity on different stages and well-known TV channels. In some parts of the world, there are societies that welcome teenage girls who are using their voices to make changes; however, when I heard about the ban, I realized a sad fact about my society: There were people who wanted to silence me solely because of my gender. I had to stand up for my rights for the first time in my life. So, I recorded a video of me singing a song as a call to action for all girls and women. Murtaza, my brother, posted it on social media, alongside the #IAmMySong, and it soon went viral. The movement successfully reversed the decision.    

Later that year, before the fall of Kabul, I was watching President Joe Biden’s briefing on TV regarding his country’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. I vividly recall him sharing a story about his visit there, where he had conversations with several girls. One of them had told him: “If you leave Afghanistan, I will no longer be able to pursue my desire to become a doctor.” She urged him not to abandon Afghanistan. Upon hearing this, tears welled up in my eyes, and my heart splintered, as I could truly empathize with her feelings. She understood the imminent situation and was desperate to hold onto her dreams. Unfortunately, her plea fell on deaf ears. As a 16-year-old, of course I am not aware of all the political complexities, but why couldn’t the US have at least negotiated some form of peace instead of abandoning the country without any resolution?  

So now, the dream of that girl, along with the dreams of millions of other girls and women, were shattered overnight when the US and the international community abandoned Afghanistan. The Taliban, a group with a regressive mindset that deems being a girl or woman a crime, took control in a chaotic and shocking manner.   

To capture my emotions, allow me to share an excerpt from my diary written the day after Kabul fell, “It doesn’t matter when I wake up anymore, because I cannot close my eyes at night. I see everyone terrified of an uncertain future. At breakfast, no one speaks. After breakfast, I don’t know what I am supposed to do. I can’t study. Why should I study now if I am not allowed a future? Humanity is dead all over the world and I am tired of everything. In our airport, people died from stress, heat stroke, dehydration, from being crushed in their desperation to get out. Taliban are everywhere. Some people say they are going to go to every single house to search for guns or take some girls. I am wearing a long dress and covering my face. Am I going to be forced to cover my face all my life? Am I going to be locked up in my home forever?”  

Five days after the fall, my family decided to flee to Pakistan. We were lucky. After eight tense months, the 30 Birds Foundation helped us resettle in Canada. While I feel safer in my new home, every single day, I think of those girls left behind in Afghanistan; left with no hope. In Canada, I make decisions about my life, and embrace the person I aspire to be. But, what about them? 

As I stand here today, I want the world to know that girls have been out of school for 640 days. Universities are also closed off to them. Women have been stripped of everything, their education, their freedom of movement, their right to work, their choice of what to wear, and their ability to participate in public life. This is a grave injustice that denies them their basic human rights, rights that should be afforded to every individual on this planet.  

I am in awe of the immense bravery displayed by Afghan girls and women, who have steadfastly fought for their dreams in the face of the Taliban’s oppression. In the darkest of times, hope becomes our lifeline. It is our collective responsibility to be their hope, to stand with them, and to take action.  

So, I ask you, all of you, be part of this movement. And I ask those of you who have the power and the influence to please lend your voice and actions to support the Afghan girls and women. Let us unite and prove that humanity’s strength lies in its compassion and unwavering commitment to justice. The time for action is now. 

Thank you.

Soomaya Javadi, another young Hazara activist who fled Afghanistan following the fall of Kabul with Nila Ibrahimi, addressed the U.N. Opening of the 15th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

Speakers and Participants

Nila Ibrahimi

15-year-old Hazara activist who narrowly escaped the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan

Related

Women's Rights

Let Iranian Women Enter Their Stadiums with Darya Safai

Darya Safai, Iranian women’s rights campaigner and founder of Let Iranian Women Enter Their Stadiums, addresses the 8th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks. On growing up in Iran: “I grew up in the religious dictatorship of the Islamic Republic

Women's Rights

Presentation of the 2022 Women’s Rights Award with Nazanin Boniadi

Award-nominated actress and Amnesty International Ambassador, Nazanin Boniadi, presents the 2022 Women’s Rights Award at the 14th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks. Introducing Zarifa Ghafari: “I am honored to be here today, at the 2022 Geneva Summit for Human

Women's Rights

2019 International Women’s Rights Award with Nimco Ali

Nimco Ali, British-Somali feminist and social rights activist who co-founded and directs Daughters of Eve, a survivor-led organization focused on ending female genital mutilation (FGM), addresses the 11th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy after receiving the Summit’s International Women’s Rights Award – see quotes below, followed by