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.
Like many other Afghans, Yousefi stopped everything she was doing on Wednesday to watch the president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, address the country.
In an appeal to the Taliban, Ghani offered to negotiate a peace deal. Among the many offers made “without preconditions” to insurgents willing to renounce violence, was the proposal for political recognition, prisoner release, passports to Taliban members and visas to their families, as well as an office space in Kabul, in exchange of ceasefire.
Until now, the Taliban has refused to negotiate with Kabul and said it will not join talks until all foreign forces have left the country.
Yousefi says the offer to bring the Taliban to the table is too generous for her comfort.
“My family left Kabul because of the atrocities they committed against the women in our family,” she says.
As a doctor in a public hospital, she continues to see the result of Taliban violence with increasing frequency.
“I have seen Afghans injured and maimed by what the Taliban do in our country,” she says, recalling how she barely survived the last major attack on Jan. 27, when an ambulance exploded in the city center and killed nearly 100 civilians and injured many more.
“I fully support a peaceful negotiation. But where is the justice?” she asks.
Yousefi isn’t alone in her concerns. Afghan women, even those working closely on this possible deal, remain wary of the impact on women’s freedoms and achievements of the past 16 years.
The offer makes several references to women‘s rights.
“Approval of peace agreements requires a clearly delineated process of consultation in a multi-stakeholder Afghan society. Women, who fear loss of their rights and gains, must be particularly engaged and kept informed,” it reads.
Ghani and the government officials have also reiterated this several times since last week.
But activist Samira Hamidi says assurances are not enough. Hamidi works with many Afghan women and knows that their fears are real.
Habiba Sarabi, deputy chair to High Peace Council, an organization that has been working toward establishing peaceful negotiations with insurgent groups in Afghanistan, agrees with Hamidi’s assessment.
“I think the women in Afghanistan have the right to share their concern and it is natural,” she says.
If the process doesn’t go as the government plans, Sarabi has faith in the abilities of Afghan women to challenge the status quo.
Javid Faisal, spokesperson to Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah says Afghan women have reason to be concerned.
“Considering how [the Taliban] treated women during their regime and even how they continue to treat them in areas that they control, I understand what they must feel,” he says. “But we have not and will not give up on any of the rights and achievements we have gained for women in the past.” he says.
“If we could facilitate a peaceful negotiation that ends conflict, imagine the number Afghan lives we will save — of men and women,” he says. “I want my daughter to grow up in a peaceful Afghanistan where she can go to school, set goals and dream without fear.”
Faisal added that it is the promise of the government to include the women of Afghanistan when it comes time to negotiate with the Taliban.