Watch CBSN Live

As U.S. leaves, Afghan women brace to defend hard-won freedoms from the Taliban

Afghan women fear for U.S. military leaving
Afghan women fear for U.S. military leaving 03:07

Kabul — The final withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan officially began over the weekend. President Biden has said all troops will be out by September 11. Women across Afghanistan fear the Taliban could come sweeping back into power, threatening two decades of hard-won gains in their basic rights.

Zarifa Ghafari knows all too well how far the Taliban's reach has remained, even with American forces in the country. At 27, Ghafari is the youngest mayor in Afghanistan, and one of the only women to hold the position. Before the U.S.-led invasion to topple the Islamist Taliban from power, women couldn't become mayors. They couldn't even go to school.

But while they're no longer the government, the Taliban haven't gone anywhere, and they want Ghafari dead for breaking their rules. She's survived three assassination attempts already.

After being flown to Washington D.C. to receive the International Women of Courage Award, Ghafari returned to her country. 

"I came back," she said. "I came back and I stood my ground."

Zarifa Ghafari, center, the Mayor of Maidan Shahr, the capital city of Afghanistan's Wardak Province, is one of the few female mayors in her country. CBS

But back in Afghanistan, Ghafari faced a death sentence from the Taliban. When she pulled over at a pharmacy to get some hand sanitizer, gunmen opened fire on her car.

"They started shooting from back… this way, this way, this way, and then from in front they shoot, shoot, shoot," she told D'Agata.

That was the first of the three attempts on her life, and her family hasn't been spared.

"Just 20 days later, they murdered my dad," she told CBS News, through tears. "I never kissed him. I never hugged him. It was so hard."

Afghan troops prepare for U.S. withdrawal 02:42

Women, especially, fear the Taliban will retake power and reverse the gains of the past two decades. Under the group's rule, women were imprisoned inside their own homes and forced wear the burqa in public.

Dr. Najmussama Shefajo remembers feeling "suffocated." 

"We couldn't see our way, how to walk," she recalled to D'Agata. "I myself, I couldn't breathe even."

Now she fears the Taliban's return is inevitable.

"I have three daughters. My daughters are studying. What will happen to their life?"

Ghafari said that if the extremists do manage to reclaim power, she'll keep fighting for her country, and her freedom.

Zarifa Ghafari, center, the Mayor of Maidan Shahr, the capital city of Afghanistan's Wardak Province, meets with local officials. Ghafari is one of the few female mayors in her country. CBS

Even the murder of her father hasn't deterred her, and asked how she maintains that resolve, the mayor points to the example of the country now pulling its troops out of her own.

"The United States of America, it was not God-gifted," she told D'Agata. "Citizens of the country build it themselves."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.