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"We must stand": Utah community raise their voices for women in Afghanistan

An Afghan refugee speaks about the Taliban's actions against women in Afghanistan during a demonstration at Washington Square Park in Salt Lake City on Jan. 14.

An Afghan refugee speaks about the Taliban's actions against women in Afghanistan during a demonstration at Washington Square Park in Salt Lake City on Jan. 14. (Cassidy Wixom, KSL.com)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns and Afghan refugees gathered at Washington Square Park Saturday afternoon to show solidarity and support for women's rights in Afghanistan.

Around 80 people held signs, listened to speeches and raised their voices, cheering "let girls learn," "Taliban are terrorists" and "women's rights are human rights."

"Today the people of Afghanistan are gathering here in Utah, downtown, because their sisters are women who are deprived of basic rights," Utah Afghan refugee Crystal Bayat said. "We want to be the voice of those women, those girls who cannot raise their voice inside of Afghanistan."

Bayat was in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over. She tried to stand up against the Taliban but eventually had to flee to Utah to escape death threats.

She founded the Crystal Bayat Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting Afghan women. The foundation hosted the demonstration to raise awareness for victims of the oppressive Taliban regime which has excluded women and girls from education, employment and participation in socio-political life since the Taliban took over Aug. 15, 2021, a news release said.

Afghanistan has seen several protests in recent months, but many demonstrators have been abducted, beaten and threatened in response, the news release said. Bayat said she gets messages from friends and loved ones in Afghanistan about people going missing and being tortured for standing up for women's rights.

"They don't need anything more than their basic rights. They want their freedom," Bayat said. "Thank you to the people of Utah who are supporting me, the loving community that is allowing me to stand on my feet."

The Utah rally coincided with a global demonstration by United 4 Afghan Women, founded by Germany-based blogger and activist Nesam Halim.

"We need to speak up and stand up for women in Afghanistan, for women in Iran and for the people of Ukraine. For everyone who is fighting and standing for democracy and freedom, it is now the time to support them," Bayat said.

Bayat said it is a global responsibility to support the women and girls in Afghanistan and to help stop gender apartheid.

"We must stand for the right of women and girls to receive an education. We must stand against genocide and call for action that mitigates the current humanitarian crisis. The global community must stand together and sanction the Taliban to hold them accountable for their horrific crimes," Bayat said.

Crystal Bayat speaks to Afghan refugees and Utahns about the Taliban's actions against women in Afghanistan during a demonstration at Washington Square Park in Salt Lake City on Jan. 14.
Crystal Bayat speaks to Afghan refugees and Utahns about the Taliban's actions against women in Afghanistan during a demonstration at Washington Square Park in Salt Lake City on Jan. 14. (Photo: Cassidy Wixom, KSL.com)

Mehria Fazel lives in Salt Lake and is from Afghanistan. She worked with the U.S. Embassy for several years and shared a few thoughts during the demonstration.

"Educate the girls, educate the world. That's the most important thing," Fazel said. "Please stand with Afghan women and girls."

Hamza Yaqoobi is a member of the foundation who asked the attendees "What kind of savage takes away every right under the sun?" before detailing all the things women cannot do in Afghanistan anymore, including leaving home without a male guardian, going to school, going to work, going to the park or the grocery store.

"It is great to see our brothers here to stand for women in Afghanistan and we hope this activism can continue on," Yaqoobi said, referencing the many males in attendance. "We hope the world sees that if you let the Taliban be, they will continue to put women under more restrictions and more brutality. We hope everyone can speak up for them."

American Fork resident Nicole Wells tearfully shared some thoughts during the demonstration about how Americans need to stand with people who do not have the same freedoms.

"As Americans — and as people of the world — we need to recognize the people of Afghanistan. We need to remember them, we need to remember their women and what they are suffering," Wells said. "We need to unite for Afghanistan."

The Crystal Bayat Foundation outlined five demands for the international community, particularly the U.S. and European Commission, to help women and girls in Afghanistan.

First, lifting restrictions on women and girls should be the center of all talks with the Taliban to ensure women can exercise their right to education, movement, work, self-determination and security. This point of demand also asks for the immediate opening of secondary schools, high schools, and universities to women.

The second demand asks for the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for gender-based persecution in Afghanistan in both international and extraterritorial jurisdictions. The third demand is a call for monitoring of humanitarian aid and ensuring the aid reaches those in need.

The fourth demand asks for the diplomatic headquarters of the Taliban in Doha to be closed in order to address "the ongoing injustices and oppressive policies towards women and the promotion of extremist ideology that the regime has continued to perpetuate."

The last demand calls for the international community to not recognize the Taliban and to put in place severe sanctions until the schools and universities are accessible to all people, regardless of gender.

"It is time right now for the international community, for the people around the world to take action against the Taliban. They are terrorists and they are not going to change their nature," Bayat said. "If we believe in democracy, if we believe in freedom, here is the time to take action."

Ibrahim Mujadedi is from Afghanistan but has lived in Utah for more than 10 years. He heard about the event through the Afghan community and came to support.

"The whole situation in Afghanistan is really sad," Mujadedi said, referencing lack of women's education, massive amounts of poverty and a big challenge of security. "Everyone making these protests are hoping to draw the United Nations and the Unites States' attention to see if they can get help with the situation."

Bayat said although she thinks more people need to come together and take action, seeing the community today gives her hope.

"When I started I was alone. But when I see this support of people, I feel hopeful for the future, for the cause I am fighting for," Bayat said.

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Cassidy Wixom covers Utah County communities and is the evening breaking news reporter for KSL.com.

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