Kimberley Motley, a human rights lawyer and the subject of the 2015 documentary “Motley’s Law,” has a unique perspective on life in Afghanistan. And she wants Americans to know — whatever they may see through news coverage of the country’s collapse, the reality on the ground for women under Taliban rule will be far worse.
“We’re seeing in real time the erasure of women from society” in Afghanistan, Motley told Variety. “We’re seeing women’s faces in public spaces are being painted over. There are way less women on the streets of Kabul now.”
Motley is currently in North Carolina, where Motley Legal Services is based. Her many contacts in Afghanistan have reported shocking conditions over the past few days as the country fell to the brutal militants that previously controlled large swaths of the nation of 38 million, about 20 million of which are women.
Motley is troubled by the lack of urgent action from world leaders to protect Afghan women from the brutality and repression that will be imposed by fundamentalist Taliban militants. For one, women now need a male escort to be seen out in public or risk violent punishment.
“There needs to be an international outcry to protect women and their rights,” she said. “Why that isn’t happening from heads of state, I don’t know.”
A native of Wisconsin, Motley made a name for herself by establishing a law practice in Afghanistan in 2009, after she’d spent a year working for the U.S. State Department on a mission to train Afghans as judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys. She hung out her own shingle after the federal assignment ended and became the first non-Afghan lawyer ever to litigate cases in the Central Asian nation. Her story was chronicled in the 2015 documentary “Motley’s Law” directed by Nicole Nielsen Horanyi.
Motley said she is particularly angered by President Biden’s handling of the withdrawal because of the work she and others had done to help establish a justice system and rule of law. Many women have been serving as judges, lawyers, politicians, doctors, academics, journalists and civic leaders over the last 20 years since the previous period of Taliban control ended with the arrival of the U.S.
“We sold them the dream of democracy and the rule of law, and we’re leaving them now in a worse situation than when we found them 20 years ago,” Motley said.
Now many women who were prominent in their field are on house arrest. A number of high-profile women that Motley knows have not been heard from in days.
“There were university women who were told ‘You’re not in school any more. There are people being turned away from work — ‘You don’t work here any more.’ They are setting up checkpoints where people are being stopped to look at their electronic devices to see if they’re talking to foreigners,” Motley said. “There are reports of beatings in the streets.”
Moreover, some pregnant women have been barred from giving birth at hospitals because they would be treated by male doctors. “Women are bleeding out at home instead,” she said.
Motley said she intends to go back to Afghanistan as soon as possible, despite the conditions.
“I have more work to do now there than ever,” she said. “Afghanistan has become a second home to me.”
(Pictured: Kimberley Motley in “Motley’s Law”)