Note: to mark the one year anniversary of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, the stories of eight Afghan women produced in different countries, will be published in Farsi and English by Rukhshana Media. These stories were first published by the Time Magazine in collaboration with Rukhshana Media and Pulitzer Center.
By: Amie Ferris-Rotman
Throughout her life, Basira, a 24-year-old activist campaigning for the rights of the Afghan LGBTQ community, believed the West had her back. She is too young to remember the Taliban’s previous rule; she was only a toddler when U.S. forces invaded her country. She grew up believing education was the right of all women and girls. Her university diploma and high school report card of straight-As are among her most treasured belongings. So when the Taliban swept to power last August, she continued fighting, taking to the streets of Kabul in protest. She received invitations from several western nations offering refuge, but she didn’t want to leave Afghanistan, a country that had given her so much. “I was sure the international community wouldn’t abandon us,” she says. “But I was wrong.” She soon realized her life was in danger and hid for two months before leaving for Ireland, disguised in a burqa.
Now living in a small Dublin apartment, she wrestles with her newfound liberation (Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin gave her a private audience during Pride Week) while also facing isolation and fear. She spoke on condition that only her first name is used, worried for her family’s safety in Afghanistan. She is wary of abuse from Afghans, even in Dublin. From Ireland, she continues to battle for the freedoms of LGBTQ people – both back home and those around the world.
What do you miss most about Afghanistan?
I miss Afghan children, especially my nieces and nephews. I have 10—three boys and seven girls—who are the children of my four sisters. They have no access to the internet, so I call them sometimes with a credit card. Afghan children are really deprived.
After leaving Afghanistan, I dream I am still in Afghanistan. In my dreams I am running, I am protesting, every night I am there. I blame myself sometimes for leaving, for coming here. But then I saw I can work harder and more effectively from outside Afghanistan. I see the girls who are still in Afghanistan, and how they have lost hope. But still that hope exists in my heart.
What has surprised you about where you live now?
Ireland is a paradise for the LGBTQI community. The community is supported by the government. LGBTQI activism here is really active, and that is really lovely. We have a lot of LGBTQI people from around the world who are asylum seekers and refugees. They came here to find a peaceful home, and that is really amazing, and that really makes me happy.
What do you do to relax?
I listen to music, I study, I put on make-up, I cook food, I write. I love to put on make-up because it gives me self-confidence. I am also writing about my experiences, about what happened to me.
When you think of Afghanistan’s future, what comes to mind?
Afghanistan will absolutely get worse and worse. Poverty is everywhere. Afghanistan is also suffering a lot from climate change—from earthquakes and floods. No international support is coming, so poverty is increasing day by day.
What food from home do you eat most often?
I cook Kabuli pilau. Luckily there are a lot of Asian shops here, so I can find the right ingredients and spices.
Describe your favorite possession that you have with you. Why is it so special to you?
My skills are the most important things I brought with me from Afghanistan. My university diploma is very special to me. I brought it in a folder in my suitcase. I graduated from the University of Balkh in 2018 with a Bachelor’s in law and political science. I was an extremely good student. My target was 100% in all subjects and I almost did it. My awards, my Freedom Champion Award that was given to me by an Afghan NGO White Assembly three days before the collapse of Kabul, and my Model UN Balkh award, are also special.
Choose one word to describe yourself.
I call myself “the sultan.” I prefer to be a leader than a boss. That’s why I am a sultan. Since I was little, I have been the only one looking after me. My life has been my empire. I made it all.
What word comes to mind when you think about the Taliban?
Where do you see yourself in one year from now?
I want to continue raising the voice of Afghan women and the LGBTQ community back home, through our organization “Afghan LGBT.” I will continue my advocacy.
‘Unstoppable,’: The journey of a young woman from American University of Afghanistan to Rutgers University in the U.S.