Last August, the Taliban rushed into Kabul and entered the presidential palace, President Ghani left the country, NATO and United States forces evacuated thousands of their allies, journalists, members of the LGBTI community, and human rights activists. During the evacuation, dozens of people lost their lives in the entrance gates of the Kabul Airport.
The situation got worse after the Taliban began to rule Afghanistan: ranging from economic impacts to individual freedoms and human rights. The Taliban eliminated the Ministry of Women Affairs and renamed it the Ministry of Virtue. Girls’ secondary schools were banned, and the Faculty of Arts and Philology was eliminated from Kabul University. Freedom of speech has disappeared, and women in Afghanistan are paying the highest price than they ever have.
Women living under the Taliban rule
Naila is a medical student, and this is her last year of university. She is working in a general surgery ward, and she is saying the health sector has been majorly disrupted since the Taliban took over.
One day she was in a men’s ward of Ali Abad Hospital in Kabul. A ‘Talib’ man came and asked her to leave the room and to go to the women’s ward. She told him that she was not a gynaecologist and was not trained to treat female patients. It was difficult for Naila to communicate with her teacher, who was a man, and there were eight Taliban with white dresses in the check-up room observing what was happening.
She went to Emergency Services and stood in a corner to try and hide, and the man reminded her to not wear makeup anymore.
“A big banner is installed on the entrance gate of the hospitals and has written “Your Hijab is your honour” she said. “There are many limitations, and we are not allowed to talk with our male classmates about a patient or any medical issues except our teachers and that is very limited too” added Naila.
A big banner is installed on the entrance gate of the hospitals and has written “Your Hijab is your honour” she said. “There are many limitations, and we are not allowed to talk with our male classmates about a patient or any medical issues except our teachers and that is very limited too” added Naila.
Nasiba is a radiologist working in a private hospital where she has been working over five years. When the Taliban took over, she could not dress the same she could before, particularly once she had seen that the Taliban was beating the women who did not wear proper hijab based on the conditions they ordered.
Nasiba experiences lots of problems when traveling from home to her office. She uses the public transport, but most of the time the public transport drivers don’t let her get the front seat because the drivers are scared that the Taliban will beat them because they let the women sit on the front seat of the taxi and bus.
Nasiba wears long black dresses to not attract attention and getting to the office is a big challenge for her. Besides that, she cannot do the check-ups on men, as the Head of the Hospital has been threatened by the Taliban, saying that female doctors should not touch men. Now Nasiba is nervous to continue working in this manner.
Behnaz is supposed to start her last year of school in Herat province, but she has been deprived of school. She has dreamt of becoming an artist. “We women are one wing of a bird, and a community won’t be developed without educated women. I missed laughing with my classmates and the atmosphere of our class and the school. I hope no girl in the world is deprived of getting an education like us” said Behnaz.
We women are one wing of a bird, and a community won’t be developed without educated women. I missed laughing with my classmates and the atmosphere of our class and the school. I hope no girl in the world is deprived of getting an education like us” said Behnaz.
It is not only the health and education sectors that are dealing with different problems, but there are also women that cannot leave their homes.
Zainab started her career as a journalist with Maaref TV in 2015 and after the Taliban took over, she and all her female colleagues were fired from the TV station - only because they were women.
“I was the only one who worked in our family. I lost my dad a few years ago and all my siblings are younger than me. I loved my job but now I am seeing a dark future for all women, and I am like a detainee at home” said Zainab.
Shabnam, who is an anchor in one of the private television stations in Kabul, is dealing with more challenges than ever. She wears a mask while she is reading the news and she does not feel safe while travelling between home and work.
“I totally cover my face to not be identified and I need to work as I have strived for being a journalist, but my family is nervous, and I am worried about their safety too” said Shabnam.
There are women that have tried to leave the country but have not succeeded. Azita is a Karate Martial Arts national team member and a midwife. She participated in many national and international championships. After the Taliban took over, she did not feel safe and went to Iran with her brother illegally.
“While we arrived in Iran, we did not have any place to stay for a while. We slept in the parks and found work in a stick company there” said Azita.
Azita, along with her brother, found a place to stay and during that time she applied for a Brazil visa but returned to Kabul. It was difficult for her father to feed the family so her father reached out to their relatives and raised some money to buy a ticket for Azita to leave the country and head to Brazil - to then apply for asylum to another country.
She headed to the airport and in the entrance gate of the airport the Taliban took her tickets and tore them up. “I cried and I even bowed on their feet, but they did not accept to get the flight because I was a woman. I never ever felt so desperate and nowadays I have anxiety and can’t put my eyes to sleep. I dreamt of being athletic, but my dreams have fallen apart” added Azita. Azita could not leave the country.
Women waiting in third countries to move a safe place
“It’s one year and I am homeless and errant, since the Taliban took over, I have not seen and have a good moment in my life and I don’t have any clue of future where and when I will move from Islamabad, but I never acquiesced and always thinking about women and girls in Afghanistan” said Shaista.
Shaista, a 30 year old woman with a background as an interpreter and journalist, left the country in September to Islamabad and is living in a shelter where dozens of other Afghans are living. They are supported by different aid organisations who are helping them to evacuate to Western countries.
She is nervous and has anxiety about her future and everything she lost in Afghanistan. She cannot even sleep without pills. She was supposed to start her new job in the Ministry of Defence as a Communications Specialist, but her dreams fell apart when the Taliban took over.
Sedra studied agriculture and worked for 6 years for empowerment of women in this sector in Mazar-e-sharif, Afghanistan.
She and her husband were evacuated by US forces in October 2021 to Abu Dhabi - and she was four months pregnant. She delivered her baby in the camp.
“We escaped the Taliban but living in a camp where we are not allowed to go out is like a prison. The weather is warm, and I can’t walk on the ground of the camp. The facilities like room, food and clothes are available but cannot go out of the camp.”
She describes her pregnancy as one of the toughest periods of her life. Still, she has no clue for how much longer they will stay in the camp, but she heard from other Afghans in the camp that they will be settled until the end of August.
Awizha, a 28 year old woman who was a journalist covering online media and activists, left Afghanistan by the end of October 2021. She has spent nine months in an Abu Dhabi camp and flew to Virginia last week.
Life for Awizha is starting from scratch and she is concerned that women in Afghanistan are disappearing from society, and that the Taliban put them in the darkness.
During the nine months, she has watched movies, books, but still she has anxiety and dealt with depression in the last months because of the shock she had left everything behind.
Women settled in new countries
The people who escaped abroad are dealing with different problems of integration and starting from scratch. Taranom Saeedi was born and raised as a refugee in Iran and recently moved to Canada. She was a candidate for the Parliament and had a women’s rights organisation back in Afghanistan.
“I feel lost, and I don’t know where and how I should start from zero in a country where I don’t have more knowledge about the environment and cultures” said Taranom.
Taranom was a parliamentary candidate in the last election, but she could not succeed but she planned it for the future. She launched women’s demonstrations after the Taliban took over in Kabul and she was advocating for humans right after her return to Afghanistan in 2010. She is nervous about her family left behind back in Afghanistan and all her achievements.
Negah, who moved to Spain, was working as a lawyer in Afghanistan. From her perspective, finding the path in a community will be a big challenge for those who are settled in Western countries.
“Language was a big barrier for me, and I dealt with a long-term serious depression. When we arrived, I was shocked about our loss and now thinking about my career future here and it is a long path to go” said Negah.
What does the future look like for women in Afghanistan?
Women and minorities are under a significant amount of pressure, but every single Afghan is suffering in a different way. The Shia community has been targeted many times after the Taliban ruling. Target killings are on the ground. The Taliban are promising better conditions, but their government does not have a legal framework and they don’t respect international law.
An Amnesty International report has revealed and showed the Taliban are eliminating women from the society in Afghanistan. The research showed women are not allowed to go out without a male companion.
Women who are affected by the gender-based violence and sought refuge in shelter and centres seeking safety, have been shattered by the Taliban. Most of these women have been transferred to the prison and some of them back to their families and suicide rates have increased since then across the country.
People are paying high sacrifices across the country and no one knows how long this situation will continue. One thing is clear: the international community also needs to take action to reduce the human suffering in Afghanistan.