Rabia was just 15-years-old when she became engaged to a Taliban officer against her will in a small village in Afghanistan.
Now 22-years-old, Rabia has fled Afghanistan and has managed to get away from the man who made her adolescence hell. She is temporarily living in Pakistan, but she’s hopeful she will ultimately be able to claim asylum in either Canada or the UK so she can build a life for herself.
Like so many others, Rabia had no choice but to flee when the Taliban seized power. She is a lesbian, which makes her a threat to Taliban rule. To make matters worse, she knew the man she was engaged to as a teenager was still trying to track her down.
That’s why she and a friend – another lesbian – decided to travel to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We had lots of problems because the Taliban stopped us along the way several times,” Rabia tells PinkNews.
Thankfully, Rabia and her friend managed to get into Pakistan with the help of a journalist who advocated for them at the border – but she wishes leaving was never a necessity in the first place.
“Before the Taliban, we had the opportunity to work, to study, to have a job,” Rabia says. “We had opportunities, and I was a student at a university.” Life was far from perfect – Rabia had to hide her identity and she couldn’t live openly as a lesbian. But once the Taliban seized control, things became much worse.
“After the coming of the Taliban, everything changed. I couldn’t go anymore to university, and I couldn’t go to my job,” she says. “I received a call from the job and they told me that you can’t come anymore because you are fired. I don’t know why.”
In the weeks that followed, Rabia changed her location several times out of fear that her ex-fiancé would track her down. She didn’t want to live with her family as she feared doing so would put their lives at risk.
Rabia’s father was forced to accept the engagement by a Taliban officer in Afghanistan
She still remembers vividly what it was like to be a teenager and be forced into an engagement against her will with a man she did not want to marry.
“He was a security member, that was the time that the Taliban was not controlling Afghanistan and they didn’t have any role or right to be in Afghanistan,” Rabia says. “They forced my father for the engagement. They told my father, if Rabia doesn’t accept this, we will go for your other girl, my sister. I didn’t want them to hurt my sister because she’s so sensitive. I had to do this because I didn’t have any option. Fortunately I found a way to escape from him.”
Rabia got away from her fiancé after six months. She was able to make contact with a woman in Kabul who dedicated her time to helping young girls get to the city where they could study and work. Rabia spent some time in a safe house in the city, and she later moved in with a family based in Kabul.
It was there that Rabia finally started to come to terms with her sexuality.
“My girlfriend, she was their daughter,” Rabia says. “And I found myself when I lived with them. I think I was 16 or 17 when I felt something in myself and I found that I have a feeling for her, I have something different. I just tried to let her know and fortunately, she had the same feeling for me and I proposed her and she accepted me.”
While Rabia and her girlfriend were able to have a relationship, they had to keep it a secret. Her girlfriend’s family were not open-minded people. Sadly, the family later moved to Iran, meaning their relationship came to an end.
Living in Kabul gave Rabia the chance to meet another lesbian and to fall in love – but it also gave her the chance to go to university. Tragically, she wasn’t able to complete her degree – she was nearing the end of her studies when the Taliban seized control.
Fearing for her life and knowing she could no longer pursue a future in Afghanistan, Rabia decided she had to get out. She and a lesbian friend she met in the safe house in Kabul all those years ago set off on foot to get away from the Taliban.
“It’s good to be what you are with the people who can understand you, with people who can know you, can understand your feelings and your identity,” Rabia says. “It’s a beautiful feeling that I didn’t have before. Now I’m with her in Pakistan and we’re in contact with another girl in Islamabad.
Rabia feels safer now that she has gotten out of Afghanistan – she knows she is far away from her ex-fiancé. She is sure he would have hurt her if he had been able to track her down before she got out of the country.