The year was 1988, and each month a small column would appear in our Diocesan newspaper, written by a woman named Win Perryman, on behalf of Amnesty International. In the fall of that year, I was a newly ordained Anglican pastor, just settling into my first parish in rural Eastern Ontario. The conversations and ministry directions at that time centered around the new liturgies, church growth and development, and the changes brought into the Anglican church by the ordination of women. It was an exciting time, an interesting time, and I was full of newly hatched enthusiasm for the challenges at hand.
I remember Win’s columns. I remember seeing the word “Taliban”, and reading of aid workers in Kabul, Afghanistan, finding women, many of them well-educated, cast out on the street, some having gone insane. I remember this, and yet I do not remember any conversations happening, I do not remember anything in the news. Just Win’s monthly column, faithfully month-by-month, calling people to listen and to act. And then the word “Taliban” receded in my mind – and seemingly everywhere else – until it exploded across the globe on 9/11.
Before the dominance of the Taliban, Afghan women were of the highest educated in the Arab world. Girls enjoyed access to excellent education, and there were many women in the professions. Before the Taliban, Kabul was a beautiful city, full of parks, fountains, and cafés, in which people could mingle freely and unafraid.
Over the 20 years since 9/11, Afghan women have worked sacrificially and heroically to regain agency over their lives. Girls were going back to school, women were once again able to practice law, medicine, and to be teachers and professors. So much progress, now lost. In but a few short and violent weeks. On Friday, UNHCR Canada (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) stated: “The mass displacements in Afghanistan are one of the largest crises in modern history. Afghans need you to stand by them now more than ever.”
As I listen to the news, as I read the words, as I look at the pictures, I am haunted by Win Perryman’s small monthly column, which I read but failed to take to heart. And I wonder if I, if we, had paid attention back in 1988, how might things now be different for the women of Afghanistan? These girls and women – created in God’s image, our sisters – need our prayers, our petitions, and any advocacy we can offer, that we do not fail them again.
This opinion piece was written by Rev. Lynn Mitchell for our prayers and reflection; Lynn is the Anglican Church of Canada WICC board appointee and WICC Fellowship of Least Coin International Liaison Committee Chair.