The status of Afghan women, at times used to help garner support for the U.S. war after the 9/11 attacks, has once again taken center stage after the recent rise of the Taliban who face international pressure to ensure women’s rights.

From her home in Illinois, Asma Yawari has built a relationship with her younger cousin in Afghanistan that’s made the geographic distance between the two teenagers’ worlds seem, well, not quite so distant, AP reports.

They never met but have bonded over phone calls and messages — swapping family photos and language lessons, sharing hair routines and future dreams. But after the Taliban’s return to power, the cousins worry that the space between their worlds may grow in new ways. Already, some shared experiences, like going to school or dressing up, are fading, replaced by the fear that the cousin, and others like her in Afghanistan, may be left behind.

“We have similar goals and aspirations,” the 17-year-old Asma says. “The only difference is that I’m able to achieve those goals and aspirations.”

As a wary world watches to see the Taliban’s policies for women, many older girls in Afghanistan already face disrupted dreams, worried for their future, afraid of missing out on big career goals as well as little freedoms and hobbies that helped connect them to far-flung families. And perhaps none are more worried for them than the faraway women who could have been them – the sisters, the cousins, the friends.

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