‘We Are Gravely Concerned’: Senators Seek Swift Aid for Afghan Women Leaders

Dozens of senators signed a letter on Monday urging the Biden administration to move faster on evacuations.

Afghan women attend a literacy class in women in Bamyan. (U.N. Photo / Sebastian Rich)

This story originally appeared on The 19th.

Afghan women leaders are most at risk for retaliation by the Taliban, and the United States should move quickly to protect them, U.S. lawmakers said in a letter sent Monday to the heads of the State Department and Department of Homeland Security. 

“In areas captured by the Taliban, there are reports of war crimes including summary executions, public beatings and flogging of women, sexual violence and forced marriage, as well as clampdowns on media and other forms of communication,” according to the bipartisan letter, which was signed by 46 senators. 

These lawmakers called for an increased processing capacity and a quicker paperwork process to relocate Afghan women leaders to safety. While applauding the administration’s recent expansion of the Afghan special immigrant visa program, these lawmakers said more needed to be done to “protect those women who might fall through the cracks.” 

Members of Congress said they were receiving reports of Afghan women being targeted, threatened, kidnapped, tortured and assassinated. Many of these women have been known defenders of democracy, equality and human rights. 

“We are gravely concerned about the safety of women leaders, activists, judges, parliamentarians and human rights defenders,” the letter said. 

The letter came less than a day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the palace and the Taliban had taken control of the country. Advocates warn that all the progress for women’s rights that have been gained in the past two decades will be lost

On Monday, President Joe Biden said he stood behind his decision to completely withdraw American troops—a move agreed upon with the Taliban. However, the Taliban takeover happened “more quickly” than U.S. intelligence anticipated, he admitted. 

When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, women were not permitted to leave their homes without an accompanying man from their family. They were also denied education, work opportunities and many facets of a public life. 

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Mariel Padilla is a general assignment reporter for The 19th. Previously she covered breaking news at The New York Times, compiled data at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism and contributed to a Pulitzer Prize-winning project at The Cincinnati Enquirer.