Run away and dishonor the family or die trying to love. Getting married without a virgin is a death sentence for Afghan women who are forced to undergo surgery to restore their hymen. Virginity testing is often ordered by authorities and family members.
They are only 22 years old, and on their back lies the gravity of the crime they have already committed – sex between singles – and the second they dream of committing: fleeing the country. While the latter is not enshrined in Afghan law, it deserves equal disapproval in a society that suppresses, persecutes and punishes young people who dare to dream.
With the return to power of the Taliban 20 years later, the love story of Leyla and Ehsan becomes more complicated. The couple agreed to talk to “El Pais”, who gave them fictitious names for security reasons, but they do not hide their fear: their lives are in danger. Imagine living together in Kabul with independence and a free future for them is almost utopia.
At a time when the Ministry of Women’s Affairs had just disappeared with the establishment of the Islamic State (replaced by a kind of “moral police” promoting virtue), Leila decided to undergo gynecological surgery to restore her hymen. Come back to virginity, because you didn’t believe that the wind could change in your favor.
She is scheduled to marry six months later with the fiancé her family has chosen for her, and if that were not the case, she would embarrass both families, a medical technology student rudely explains by making a neck-slitting gesture.
In Afghanistan, virginity tests are still frequently carried out not only at the request of the authorities, but also at the request of the families themselves, confirmed Heather Barr, head of the women’s department at Human Rights Watch. Hence the nobility of the work of Shaquila, the 30-year-old doctor who operated on Leila, and many other young women. “I want to help girls live a free and happy life,” she said. “This is why it is so important for me to get their hymen back. We have a religion that prohibits girls from having sex without being married. And anyone who doesn’t get married should keep their hymen intact, ”she explained, suggesting that she’s scared that someone (including the husband himself) is discovering this aspect of his job.
Over the past seven years, Shakila, who works in a private hospital, has performed more than 70 of these gynecological surgeries. He uses his own tools – a procedure he finds simple and safe – and accepts a double life because he knows he is saving lives. “They can kill them.” Each intervention costs 430 euros, but in most cases he cannot collect them because the patients have no money. In addition to being approached by adolescents, many parents turn to her for services, especially in cases of rape.
According to Human Rights Watch, about 400 teenagers and women were imprisoned in Afghanistan in 2012 for moral crimes. Punishment for the fact that the authorities intend to set an example for all girls trying to avoid forced marriage, rape and other abuse.
This is why Layla shows little reaction when Ehsan assures El Pais that he will fight to save this love. “We have to find a way to be together,” says the economics student. And time is running out.