‘We won’t be silenced’

Every detail of the incident remains etched in Simi Yousefi’s memory.

It was the late 1990s. The Taliban was in control.

The extremist group had imposed a very strict interpretation of Islam that restricted the freedoms and rights of women. Not only was women’s education limited, but there were only a handful of jobs they were permitted to pursue.

In public, women were required to wear a full burqa.

“We only had one burqa in our house that was shared between myself, my mother and two of my sisters,” Yousefi says.

On this day, her mother offered her the burqa for an urgent trip to the dentist. Rules of morality are relaxed for older women in Afghanistan, so her mother thought she would be okay.

On the way, they were stopped by the Taliban’s policemen in charge of “implementing virtue and morality.”

“They dragged her and flogged her with a leather whip,” Yousefi says. “She was bedridden for 40 days. After that, none of us wanted to live like this anymore.”

Her family left Afghanistan for Pakistan after that, but Yousefi returned with her family and trained as a medical doctor after the American occupation in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime.