Taliban rulers in Afghanistan have recently made it mandatory for women to cover their faces while presenting news. The restriction is one of the many explicit and implicit restrictions posed among women by the Taliban rulers’ post-invasion in August 2021.
In nine months, post-Taliban takeover, Afghanistan is going through an extreme humanitarian and economic crisis.
Citizens, particularly women of Afghanistan, have been leading a difficult life ever since the Taliban’s presence grew strong in the country. During their previous rule from 1996 to 2001, women were subjected to numbers of violence, public executions, stoning, lashings, and abuse.
Girls were altogether banned from education and employment opportunities. Women lived under a constant restriction of freedom, and now history is repeating.
Immediately upon the Taliban’s takeover in Kabul in August 2021, women are subjected to punishment for any action against the Taliban’s instructions. Imposing controls over women’s dresses were just the beginning of their extremities, with gradual restrictions imposed over girls’ education, professional involvement, and health and safety.
Incidents like public beating of women without burqa were reported in the first months of the Taliban’s takeover. In May 2022, the Taliban announced a rule that necessitates women to be covered head to toe while in public stating this as a “not a restriction on women but an order of the Quran.” Violations of the rule will not only subject women to repercussions, but their male relatives will also be punished. Now, women are banned from long-distance travel without male counterparts and full-body coverage. To discourage women’s interaction with men on all fronts, women are also instructed to make their dresses rather than going to male tailors.
Afghanistan witnessed an uprising from women’s rights activists demanding permission to get access to education. The demands remained unmet as girls till grade 6 were only allowed to receive education in gender-segregated classrooms. Although the Ministry of Education stated their permission to allow girls above grade 6 (13 years and above) to resume education after winter, it did not open because schools are to be shut until a plan was drawn for them to reopen under new laws. Higher Education Minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani had also mentioned that the subjects being taught to students will be reviewed.
Before the Taliban’s takeover in 2022, there was a significant increase in girls’ secondary education with nearly 40% enrolled in 2018 in comparison to 6% in 2003 (U.N. Children’s agency, UNICEF, 2018). Women attending universities had also grown with hundreds of women joining programs to become doctors, lawyers, and scientists. The University of Kabul had even started a master’s in gender studies.
Despite the progress, Afghanistan has one of the highest gender gaps in education in the world. As per UNICEF, 60% of 3.7 million Afghan children who were out of school were girls. Only 37% of teenage girls could read and write, compared to 66% of boys.
Upon the Taliban’s takeover, many women lost their jobs as they were not allowed to work. Women working in healthcare and primary teachers were only allowed. Women lawmakers, journalists, security professionals, and even farmers had to hide or flee away as their profession posed a threat to their and their families’ lives. Women who work from home- embroidery and other handicrafts- are also facing a crisis due to the lack of a market for their products. The restrictions to work have hit hardest on the single women who are the sole breadwinners for their families. As women are not being hired or paid, many women have reported running out of their savings.
Afghanistan is currently facing a severe economic crisis as around 75% budget came from foreign aid which has been halted after the Taliban came into power. The Central Bank of Afghanistan has been cut off from the international banking system and access to the country’s foreign currency reserves. As such, most women have either lost their jobs or been working in an insecure environment without salaries. UN agencies have slowly begun to bring in some funds, but logistical and security challenges, and legal uncertainties have made it difficult to roll out.
Hospitals have reported instructing women on how to dress and working separately with male counterparts. Women have complained of discomfort in performing their duties in fully covered clothes. Even the cell phones that women use are also being reviewed and only a simple Nokia phone is being suggested to women.
Women’s access to health services has also been limited as doctors refuse to check up on female patients without a male counterpart accompanying them. While it’s harder to find women health workers, it is equally difficult to get health services from male doctors. The services are provided in gender-segregated rooms.
As per 2021 data, women account for 21% of internally displaced people, which is equal to men whereas children make up 58%. As per recent data, almost 80% of women and children in Afghanistan need international protection. Drought infliction and a high rate of gender-based violence are further compelling women and citizens to leave the country in search of refugees in neighboring countries. Taliban takeover has made the situation even more precarious for women and girls and the data is likely to increase in the coming years.
Mental health challenges
Women are increasingly reporting fear, trauma, anxiety, and depression post-Taliban’s rule. Women who were career-driven and enjoying their works expressed an intense sense of isolation after they were bound to stay at home. Several women lawmakers and judges fled the country in fear of being caught and punished for being involved in the profession.
Women’s resilience despite challenges
Despite the challenges, women’s rights activists and organizations are committed to fighting against all the odds. Citing the remarkable transformation in the arena of education and leadership of women in the last few decades, women-focused NGOs and networks are not holding their words and actions back despite the Taliban’s growing interference in their job. Young girls are revolting through learning coding and getting into technology.
How can international society support it?
With everything that has been going on in Afghanistan, the question remains- how can international networks and the rest of the world provide their support?
Afghanistan is in dire need of humanitarian support at this stage. Women, children, and women-headed families need more livelihood support. The international network can support community-driven projects and active non-governmental groups to fund more in the sector of education support, and livelihood opportunities and to provide psycho-social and mental health services to people, especially women and girls.