Afghan women judges face peril under Taliban rule

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 5:03 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 18, 2021 at 6:53 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A retired Vermont judge is working tirelessly with an international committee of judges to make sure female Afghan judges are able to evacuate the country following the Taliban takeover.

“Because of the work they did and their gender they are at risk. How could we have left them like this?” said Patricia Whalen. The former judge has had a strong connection with women Afghan judges since 2003 when the Vermont Rural Women’s Leadership Institute began.

Under Taliban rule 20 years ago, women had virtually no rights, were forced to follow restrictive rules, and were generally not permitted to work. “We had a lot of laughs and one woman said it was the first time she had laughed in over 20 years. She didn’t even recognize the sound coming out of her mouth,” Whalen recalled. She says these Afghan judges would stay in Vermonter’s homes, learn about the judicial system, and experience a cross-cultural connection. “We got more than we gave.”

Whalen is now working closely with her sister judges across the world who are now facing extreme danger with the return of the Taliban and their strict religious code of Sharia law. “We are trying to get them a seat on an international airlift,” Whalen said.

But with seats in scarce supply and the Kabul airport blocked by the Taliban, thousands trying to flee the country, especially women, face a harsh reality. Whalen says she and her colleagues are out of their league and need help from the U.S. government.

Congressman Peter Welch says he is aware of the peril these women are in, some of whom spent a lot of time in Vermont. “They put their lives at enormous risk and we owe an obligation to make certain they have protection,” Welch said.

“I’ve heard our congressional staff be concerned and raising the issue of judges. They all have my contact, none of them have contacted me,” Whalen said. Until she has an answer, Whalen says she continues to stay in constant touch with her Afghan colleagues through Whatsapp, providing what may be their only source of hope.

She says the situation is changing every day and she will provide the data she has collected to any reliable source who requests it, if it means getting her friends out of the country.

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