Batool Haidari, 37, talks during an interview with the Associated Press on a train taking her from her home on the outskirts of Rome, to the capital's center.

Batool Haidari used to be a prominent professor of sexology at a Kabul university before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. She taught mixed classes of male and female students, and helped patients struggling with gender identity issues.

Her husband owned a carpet factory, and together they did their best to provide a good education for their 18-year-old son and two daughters aged 13 and eight.

That comfortable life came to an abrupt halt on Aug. 15, 2021, when the former insurgents who adhere to a strict interpretation of Islam swept back into power following a costly two-decade U.S.-led campaign to remake the country.

Haidari, 37, was among the many women who fled the Taliban, fearing a return to the practices of their previous rule in the late 1990s, including largely barring girls and women from education and work. She reached Rome at the end of 2021, after a daring escape through Pakistan aided by Italian volunteers who arranged for her and her family to be hosted in the Italian capital’s suburbs.

She is among thousands of Afghani women seeking to maintain an active social role in the countries that have taken them in. Haidari and her husband are studying Italian while being financially supported by various associations. She keeps in touch with feminist organizations back home and tries to maintain contact with some of her patients via the internet.

“Being alive is already a form of resistance,” she said, adding that she wants her children to contribute to the future of Afghanistan, where she is sure her family will return one day.

“When my son passed the exam to access the faculty of Medicine at a university in Rome, for me it was good news,” she said, during a commute to her Italian classes in central Romer. “Because if I came to a European country, it was mainly for the future of my children.”

After they overran Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban initially promised to respect women’s and minorities’ rights. Instead, they gradually imposed a ban on girls’ education beyond sixth grade, kept women away from most fields of employment, and forced them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public.


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