Taliban rule has had a devastating impact on Afghan women and girls, new research shows, Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Institute at San Jose State University (SJSU) said today. The organizations looked at the conditions for women since the Taliban took control in Ghazni province, in southeastern Afghanistan.
Since taking control of the city of Ghazni on August 12, 2021, days before entering Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, the Taliban have imposed rights-violating policies that have created huge barriers to women’s and girls’ health and education, curtailed freedom of movement, expression, and association, and deprived many of earned income. Afghanistan’s rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis exacerbates these abuses.
Following the Taliban takeover, millions of dollars in lost income, spiking prices, aid cut-offs, a liquidity crisis, and cash shortages triggered by former donor countries, especially the United States, have deprived much of the population of access to food, water, shelter, and health care.
“Afghan women and girls are facing both the collapse of their rights and dreams and risks to their basic survival,” said Halima Kazem-Stojanovic, a core faculty member of SJSU’s Human Rights Institute and a scholar on Afghanistan. “They are caught between Taliban abuses and actions by the international community that are pushing Afghans further into desperation every day.”
Human Rights Watch and SJSU remotely interviewed 10 women currently or recently in Ghazni province, including those who had worked in education, health care, social services, and business, and former students.
They described spiraling prices for food staples, transportation, and schoolbooks, coupled with an abrupt and often total income loss. Many had been the sole or primary wage earner for their family, but most lost their employment due to Taliban policies restricting women’s access to work. Only those working in primary education or health care were still able to work, and most were not being paid due to the financial crisis.
The Taliban have banned women and girls from secondary and higher education, and altered curricula to focus more on religious studies. They dictate what women must wear, how they should travel, workplace segregation by sex, and even what kind of cell phones women should have. They enforce these rules through intimidation and inspections.
“The future looks dark,” said one woman who had worked in the government. “I had many dreams, wanted to continue studying and working. I was thinking of doing my master’s. At the moment, they [the Taliban] don’t even allow girls to finish high school.”
The women said they had acute feelings of insecurity because the Taliban have dismantled the formal police force and the Women’s Affairs Ministry, are extorting money and food from communities, and are targeting for intimidation women they see as enemies, such as those who worked for foreign organizations and the previous Afghan government. Most interviewees cited serious mental health consequences since the Taliban takeover, including fear, anxiety, hopelessness, insomnia, and a deep sense of loss and helplessness.
“The crisis for women and girls in Afghanistan is escalating with no end in sight,” said Heather Barr, associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Taliban policies have rapidly turned many women and girls into virtual prisoners in their homes, depriving the country of one of its most precious resources, the skills and talents of the female half of the population.”
Ghazni province, in southeastern Afghanistan, has a population of about 1.3 million people, predominantly ethnic Pashtun and Hazara. The provincial capital, Ghazni, is on the road from Kabul to Kandahar, and was often attacked during the fighting of the past 20 years.
SJSU and Human Rights Watch conducted interviews remotely, using secure communications, with women currently in Afghanistan, all of them from Ghazni province. Most were in Ghazni province; a few were in other parts of Afghanistan. Most of those in Ghazni province were living in Ghazni city but some were in other parts of the province. The interviewees had worked in education, health care, government, and nongovernmental organizations or had been higher education students. Interviews were conducted in Dari with the consent of the interviewee. Seven of those interviewed are Hazara, one Pashtun, and two members of an ethnic minority group.
The value of the Afghan currency, the afghani, has fluctuated rapidly since the Taliban takeover. It was about 120 afghanis to 1 US dollar at the time of the research, and we have used this exchange rate for conversions.
Loss of Income, Employment
Nearly all the women interviewed who previously had paid employment had lost their jobs. “In Ghazni [province], only female healthcare workers and teachers can go to work,” a nongovernmental organization worker said. “Women working in other fields are forced to stay home now.”
“A few days after the Taliban took over Ghazni and Kabul, Mullah Baradar [a senior Taliban leader] said that women can go back to work,” a government worker said. “I went to work, but I was not allowed to go in. The Taliban members said, ‘We don’t need women to work anymore. You should not come back until further notice.’ But we are breadwinners of our families.”
Her last paycheck was in July, and she is losing hope of being paid. “We used to go to show attendance, but they asked us to stop that as well.” She said some of her male colleagues were also dismissed and most government offices were closed because they did not have qualified staff.
Those still working have largely not been paid because health care and education were almost entirely financed by foreign donors, whose aid has been cut off. The only interviewee being paid regularly was working for an international nongovernmental group. “We haven’t been paid for more than five months,” a midwife said. “It’s very hard to manage for nurses and service staff because we don’t have any other source of income. The doctors have their private clinic or healthcare center. I personally find it very hard since I’m the breadwinner.” As of early January she still had not received her salary.
While primary schools for girls are open, the teachers have not received their salaries. A primary school teacher who is the main wage earner for her family of 10 said: “It’s been three months that we haven’t been paid. We go and teach, but nothing.” Her salary was 5,500 afghanis (US$46) per month and she previously supplemented this by teaching at a private school, but the private school also stopped paying teachers. She spends 300 to 350 afghanis ($2.50 to $2.90) a month for transportation to work, money she now takes from savings or family members.
“UNICEF has taken the responsibility to pay the teachers, but we don’t know when and how,” she said. This teacher later received one month’s salary from her principal, but no back pay, and did not know the source of the payment.
Taliban restrictions have compounded the financial crisis for women. The owner of a business exporting products produced by female farmers said the farmers are no longer allowed to work, the products cannot be exported, and the farmers she sources from cannot afford transportation costs. “The Islamic Emirate [the Taliban government] does not allow women to work; even the women farmers cannot work on lands,” she said. “They used to work with us, but they all must stay home now.”
The financial crisis has decimated even paid work within the home. “We would weave or do embroidery – there was a market for that,” one woman said. “Now there are no jobs, no buying and selling. People have no jobs, no motivation and hope.”
A single mother who has not been paid for five months borrowed 10,000 afghanis ($83) from a cousin living in Saudi Arabia for a birthday celebration for her young daughter. “I want her to know that at the height of poverty, I care about her birthday and happiness,” she said.
Financial Crisis and Rising Prices
A financial crisis followed the Taliban takeover on August 15, as the economy collapsed and banking system froze. About 75 percent of the previous government’s budget came from foreign donors, but most halted their aid to government agencies and institutions shortly before or after the Taliban takeover. The Central Bank of Afghanistan, under Taliban control, has been cut off from the international banking system and access to the country’s foreign currency reserves.
The International Monetary Fund, reportedly at US request, prevented Afghanistan from accessing credit and assets. Past United Nations Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions and other restrictions on the Taliban for terrorism-related actions prevent the Central Bank of Afghanistan from receiving new paper Afghan currency, which is printed in Europe.
Much of the state bureaucracy is no longer functioning because many workers from the previous Afghan government have fled the country, or are afraid of returning to work, and the Taliban authority lacks funds to pay workers.
Some humanitarian aid and other assistance provided by UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations has gradually restarted but remains severely curtailed due to Taliban restrictions, logistical difficulties including barriers to transferring money into the country, security concerns, staff evacuations, closures, and legal uncertainties including fear of violating sanctions. The UN World Food Programme has issued multiple warnings of worsening food insecurity and the risk of large-scale deaths from hunger throughout Afghanistan.
Ghazni interviewees, regardless of their financial situation before August 15, all said they felt the consequences of the financial crisis. “Our money has been frozen; we have no cash, we cannot feed our children,” a former worker for a nongovernmental group said. “It’s hard to run our lives.”
“The prices are getting higher on a daily basis,” a former government worker said. “Widows and female breadwinners who were the sole provider of their families are now facing high levels of difficulty. It’s painful to watch them turning to beggars with their children.”
“In Ghazni city, an egg costs 13 afghanis; it was 6 afghanis before [$0.11 versus $0.05],” one woman said. “All the essential food items have become impossible to purchase. Even Ghazni’s vegetables and its products have become so expensive. …Twenty-five kilograms of wheat would cost 1,500-1,700 afghanis [$13-$14]; now it’s sold at 2,500 afghanis [$21].” Another woman said the price of a jug of cooking oil had increased in her area from 500 afghanis to 3,000 [$4 to $25].
“We don’t go to the city anymore,” a former student said. “We can’t afford to buy anything.”
Because of a lack of liquidity and the freezing of the banking system, banks have often run out of cash and the Central Bank imposed a limit on withdrawals of 30,000 afghanis ($250) a week. Individual banks impose their own limits, usually $200 per week. Those with savings have difficulties accessing their money, and are afraid as their savings dwindle.
“We are a family of eight, and I have a university student in my family, I have school students, and my grandchildren are still kids,” a former nongovernmental agency worker said. “I was the only breadwinner of the family… No one works in our family now. We have survived by our friends’ support. We can only get 20,000 Afghanis [$167] cash from the bank. My savings are ending.”
The financial crisis has affected daily lives in various ways. One woman also said that her area had experienced rising power cuts: “Most families do not have access to electricity even at night.”
Tens of millions are acutely hungry, thousands have fled their homes, and countless women have lost their jobs.— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) January 18, 2022
In Afghanistan, unprecedented action is needed. pic.twitter.com/AD2MNDDeS8
Intimidation and Threats
Taliban authorities in Ghazni city search for women they see as having engaged in behavior they find unacceptable. A woman previously with a nongovernmental agency said she was in hiding, moving locations frequently:
I heard that they [the Taliban] entered our office. They collected our computers, saying, “These are the women who work for the foreigners.” …The night that the Taliban attacked the center of Ghazni, I fled to [another province] early the following day. They had asked about me. The imams have told me that the Taliban have asked them to report women who have worked with foreign NGOs [nongovernmental organization] and those who attempt to leave the country. …I was worried that our neighbors would report me to get credit from the Taliban. … I fear my colleagues as well; they might report me just to save their own lives.
Several said they had relatives or friends in hiding who were afraid to be interviewed. “Women who were in the army or worked as police were targets,” a government worker said. “Women’s rights activists feared for their lives and either left the province or stopped their activities. I fear for my life too: I worked, and I was active in civil society. I don’t do those activities anymore.” Several cited the Taliban’s killing of two female police officers in Ghazni, days before the province fell to the Taliban, as having struck particular fear among women in the community.
The international nongovernmental group worker said international groups were still functioning: “Because these organizations are run by the foreigners, the Taliban don’t tamper with them,” but national groups that “worked in legal sectors, promoting human rights and justice” had all been shut down. She said the group she works for had instructed its employees not to be involved in activism and to stay off social media: “The Taliban have communicated their policies and informed [the organization] not to engage with human rights, women’s rights, and other issues. It can only work in the health sector.”
Some women felt heightened risk because of both gender and ethnicity or religion. “It’s difficult for us because we are the Hazara minority,” a healthcare worker said, referring to her ethnic group, which has long been persecuted in Afghanistan. “When we talk to [Taliban members], they don’t even look at us, they don’t consider us at all,” she said, referring to Hazara staff members at her health facility. “I am impatient, and I confront them sometimes, but they threaten us, saying we would get fired, or be killed.”
The Taliban’s return to power has made members of some ethnic and religious minorities feel more vulnerable to threats even from those not affiliated with the Taliban. The healthcare worker said a colleague who is Shia, a religious minority, was threatened by a patient’s family she believed might be connected to the Taliban, who said: “‘We will kill you, terrorize you, or get you fired from your job.’ They warned my colleague that they know her address.”
She said that a Taliban administrator monitors the hospital: “The Taliban know name and details of each one of us. All the internal administrative details regarding our work and shifts are shared with and reviewed by the Taliban. For instance, they know about details such as a nurse’s duty shift.”
“The violence of the Taliban is seen in many ways,” a government worker said. “It is a form of violence when they don’t let women to work. It is violence when they don’t let young people get education. They have taken every hope from people – that is violence... They rule by fear. It’s painful to watch the society living in fear.”
Taliban authorities have also used intimidation to extract money, food, and services. “When the Taliban visit a village, they force the households to feed them and collect food items from people,” a woman from a village said. “The Taliban and their fighters call us in the middle of the night to cure and give special treatment to their patients and families,” a health worker said. “They enter the hospital with their guns, it’s difficult for the doctors and nurses to manage.”
Interviewees said the Taliban extorted money. They sometimes said they were demanding “taxes,” but the demands were made without standard rates or transparency and in a context in which communities have lost many government services. One woman said the Taliban had dramatically increased taxes on her farming community to a level that families simply could not afford.
“The problem is that in the Taliban’s government, you cannot complain anywhere,” she said. “Who would you complain to? There’s no one to monitor the situation. There’s also no help from the government, no humanitarian assistance as before. Unfortunately, all windows of hope are closed on us.”
“The Taliban collect taxes from the districts,” a former government employee said. “We have no choice but to pay the amount – we have seen and experienced Taliban’s cruelty. If they don’t pay, the Taliban fine and detain them.”
New Forms of Insecurity
After the Taliban takeover, the national police, which had functioned as a counterinsurgency force, largely disintegrated. Fighting has mostly ended in the country, but people expressed fear of violence and arbitrary arrests by the Taliban and lack of rule of law, and reported increased crime in some areas. “Since the Taliban started their government, the security situation in [a district of Ghazni] hasn’t gotten any better – in fact, it has been getting worse,” a student said. “Previously, women could go outside and commute freely to the town, but now even men don’t feel safe walking outside. There are increasing cases of robbery and theft in the district…And there’s no [organized] police to protect the area or to monitor the situation.”
“We kept hearing from some people that with Islamic Emirate there will be more security, no explosions and theft, but we see that they still happen,” a teacher said. “Banks are empty, no businesses, no economy. Theft and robbery have increased. We hear that in the districts [outside the provincial capital] there’s increased robbery every day. They steal cars and motorbikes in daylight…In Ghazni [City], in an educational center, they caught a person who wanted to explode himself – he didn’t succeed.”
One woman felt that crime had fallen – although there are no reliable crime statistics – but said for her that was not the most important measure of security:
What does it mean to have some level of security, but not having a job, no income, no food, when you don’t feel safe, what kind of security is that?...The human rights activists, journalists, and others are hiding; they don’t feel safe. Wherever we go, we fear for our lives, every time. What kind of security and safety is that?... I don’t feel safe at all.
Women also felt more insecure because the Taliban dismantled systems that assisted women facing gender-based violence. The former nongovernmental group worker said women used to turn to Ghazni’s Provincial Department of Women’s Affairs (a branch of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs) for help. But after the Taliban closed the ministry, they turned over the Kabul headquarters to the reinstated Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which monitors residents’ behavior and in the 1990s had beaten women who violated Taliban policies including its strict dress codes or work or education prohibitions. In Ghazni city, she said, the Department of Women’s Affairs office “has now been turned into military space.”
The Taliban’s violent crackdown on a women’s rights demonstration in Kabul last weekend marks an alarming & unlawful escalation of efforts to suppress peaceful protest &free speech in #Afghanistan@heatherbarr1/@Sahar_fetrat analyze the Taliban's tactics: https://t.co/hkuSXIqbP2 pic.twitter.com/VcMxmhN8iY— Alice Autin (@aliceautin) January 20, 2022
New Rules for Women’s Conduct, Dress
The Taliban have imposed new restrictions on women’s dress and conduct, which affect every aspect of their lives, including their career options. “Women can only become teachers or nurses, nothing else,” the government worker said. As the Taliban took control, new rules were imposed immediately. A health worker described going to work on the day the Taliban took over her city. “When I was trying to pass, they didn’t allow me to go,” she said. “They said you don’t have a mahram [male family member chaperone], and you’re not wearing a burqa.”
Women dress carefully to avoid the Taliban’s notice. “I wear a burqa, and my life has changed so much,” a former nongovernmental group worker said.
“The Taliban government has affected our daily lives,” a student said. “In the past, when I would come to Ghazni, I would wear the same dresses as in Kabul, and I could go around the city on my own. But now we are required to wear a burqa, and our commute to the town is restricted.”
A primary school teacher said she and her colleagues changed their dress to avoid Taliban abuse. “In the past we had a particular uniform. …It’s just long dresses now. …Long dresses, burqa, no high heels, and no sandals.”
Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, said in an interview in Kabul on September 7 that being accompanied by a mahram would only be required for travels longer than three days, not for daily activities such as attending work, school, shopping, medical appointments, and other needs. Interviewees said they are usually not required to have a mahram, but there seem to be new pressures by the Taliban on taxi drivers not to transport women traveling alone.
The ambiguous rules and atmosphere of fear encourages caution and impairs freedom of movement. “It’s affecting our morale watching the Taliban’s behavior with women,” one woman said. “In cases when they beat women, it’s hard for women to think of leaving their houses without a mahram.
“For now, we aren’t asked to have a mahram,” a former nongovernmental group worker said. “But I take my husband with me because I’m not sure. In Kabul, they seem to be more tolerant currently. In other provinces, they make a problem for those who don’t dress up and comply with their rules.”
“We don’t leave our home much,” a government worker said. “When we leave, we leave with a mahram. Some things like sanitary pads must be purchased by women themselves, but it’s hard to do it with a man accompanying us. …Women can’t take transport, they either must go out with a mahram or walk. They should walk with burqa, no heels, no makeup.”
Not everyone has a mahram available. “Most women bring their mahram when they visit my mother,” said a woman whose mother runs a home-based tailoring business. “But some women do not have their mahram, as their men work in other countries. There’s no jobs for men in Ghazni or Afghanistan. They’ve gone to Iran or other neighboring countries for work.”
Unmarried women linked the potential need to have a mahram and increased pressure to marry. “Thankfully, in Ghazni having a mahram is not an issue yet,” a single woman said. “If we are forced to walk with a mahram, I will stay home. Who can agree to a forced marriage? I have brothers [who could serve as mahrams], but they’re married and are busy with their own lives.”
When women are allowed to work, their workplaces operate under new Taliban restrictions. A health worker said her boss arranged a meeting with a senior Taliban official. “The hospital assembled all female staff to tell us how we should behave after this,” she said. “How we should dress, and how we should work separately from the male personnel. We were advised to talk to male personnel in an insolent manner and angry tone, not in a soft tone, so that we don’t evoke sexual desires in them.”
There were also new requirements to wear a burqa and a long dress. “The white uniform was to be worn over the dress,” the health worker said. “It’s so hard to walk and work with a long dress as a nurse,” adding that they sometimes need to run when handling emergencies. She tried to switch back to her normal uniform – trousers, knee length tunic, and lab coat – after a few days but was reprimanded and threatened with dismissal.
In the meeting, she said Taliban members refused to speak with the women. “They’d ask male personnel’s opinion,” she said. “But when it came to women, they said, ‘Whatever problem you have, don’t raise your voice. Don’t talk to us, write your problems so we can read them…Men should not hear women’s voices.’”
Restrictions on women’s access to technology harm their access to information, including health information. “Women are asked to not carry smart phones,” a health worker said. “They said women should keep simple Nokia phones that don’t have many options.”
A government worker said the Taliban told male shopkeepers and tailors that they may no longer interact with women, and women had been told they should sew their own clothing rather than go to a male tailor. The new rules for dress and conduct – including that woman should not socialize outside their houses – were sent in writing to the mosques, an interviewee said. Men also face restrictions, she said, including not being permitted to wear non-traditional clothing or shave their beards.
A business owner said she tried to join Chamber of Commerce and Investment meetings but was turned away. She was allowed to attend a conference on women’s business, but women were separated from male attendees with a curtain and not permitted to speak. “Around five or six men spoke in the event – they were from the Ministry of Commerce, Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment, and the Ministry of Culture,” she said. “The exhibition was held symbolically – with women brought to show.” She gave a media interview at the conference, but it was not released. “The Ministry of Culture will edit the news before any media can publish their reports. … Our media are being censored now so that they couldn’t publish the conference report.”
Rules are enforced through Taliban inspections. “The cleaning staff said they come around sometimes and ask about the teachers’ clothing,” a primary school teacher said. “The guard would tell them, ‘Yes, they wear hijabs, both teachers and students.’ The principal tells us to be more careful with our clothing and hijabs.”
“Men with local clothing come and check the personnel and the hospital,” a health worker said. “We don’t know if they are Taliban or not.”
Barriers to Health Care
Taliban restrictions on women, difficulty discerning what they are, and arbitrary enforcement impair women’s access to health care. “Doctors are also scared of treating female patients,” a government worker said. “It’s also hard to find female doctors.” She said there used to be more women healthcare workers in private hospitals and clinics, but they are harder to find now.
A former medical student accompanied her pregnant sister-in-law to the doctor. “The Taliban didn't let us enter the clinic because we didn't have a mahram,” she said, adding that the appointment was with a female doctor and the clinic was segregated by gender inside. To enter the facility, however, they had to register and receive a card and the person handling this process was a man. Taliban rules prohibited him from interacting with women, and only permitted him to speak with their mahram. The women were forced to call the interviewee’s brother, who arrived an hour later, to register them. “They don’t even have mercy on pregnant women, let alone others,” the student said. “This is so humiliating.”
Barriers to Education
Girls and women in Ghazni face a range of barriers to accessing education, including the current Taliban ban on the operation of girls’ secondary schools in 27 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, including Ghazni. “I am so worried for the girls,” a teacher said. “They have worked so hard. Girls in grades 7 to 12 have to stay home. They call us and ask about schools reopening. We tell them we don’t know yet. I can’t give them a false promise. I ask them to follow the news and internet, [and tell them] you can come when it’s announced.”
Another teacher said of her secondary school students, “Now we are asked to grade them with a ‘pass.’ How can we grade them if we don’t know where they have been, where they are? We don’t know if they are dead or alive, are they still here, have moved to another province or country?”
University students, many of whom studied outside of Ghazni, have seen their classes close with no information about when or whether they will be able to resume studying. “All the university students like me who left Ghazni for education are forced to return,” a medical student said. “We are all sitting at home, not knowing what will happen to us.”
“My younger sister wanted to go to the university but now she must stay home,” one woman said. “All universities in Ghazni are closed.”
Girls’ primary schools are open, but the knowledge that secondary school is closed distracts them. “The girls in 6th grade are worried,” a teacher said. “Their mental health is affected – they worry about their future. Seeing the older girls not going to school, they have lost morale.”
“The students ask what would happen to them after grade 6, and we tell them, ‘God is kind,’ another teacher said. “Hopefully they can continue.”
Primary school teachers come to work while secondary school teachers wait at home to see if their schools will reopen and their employment will resume. A teacher said that nonpayment of teacher salaries even for open schools is affecting the quality of education: “Some teachers who come to school don’t have the motivation to teach their class, because there’s no salary.”
Private schools have had more flexibility to stay open, but the financial crisis has also hit them. “There are some private schools, but they are about to go broke,” a former government worker said. “People cannot pay for their children’s private schools because they have lost their jobs.”
Teachers reported varying student attendance. One said that at her school only about 50 percent of the students enrolled in grades five and six attend. Another said that after the Taliban took control many students stayed home out of fear, but they gradually returned to school. “We were scared as well,” she said of the teachers. “It would make us panic seeing them [the Taliban], but now, we are used to it.”
The humanitarian crisis also affects children’s ability to learn. “Many come to school hungry, a teacher said. “It is hard because as a teacher I can’t do much for them because we don’t feed kids at school.”
“Some girls don’t have money for books or supplies,” the same teacher said. The price of schoolbooks has increased.
“Our students cannot afford to buy schoolbooks,” another teacher said. “If a schoolbook cost 30 afghanis [$0.25] before, now it’s no less than 80 afghanis [$0.67]. …In a class of 40 students only four or five manage to buy books.” She said teachers try to write a summary of the lesson on the board, but lack of books was severely harming their ability to teach.
Teachers reported that the Taliban had already made changes to the curriculum. “More religious subjects have been added,” a teacher said, and subjects such as physical education and art that were deemed “unnecessary” were removed to make space in the school day. Islamic religious studies were already part of the curriculum, but the Taliban have significantly increased the focus on these studies. “The Taliban think that before them there was no Islam and Muslims in the country,” a former government worker said.
These changes alarmed some teachers. “Even if the teachers are not ready to teach the subjects, they must do it,” one said. “There was a rumor that if we can’t teach religious subjects, they will bring in their own religious teachers from the madrasas [Islamic schools]. Teachers are anxious, everyone thinks their subject will be removed.” An interviewee whose brother teaches at a boys’ secondary school said that its curriculum was also changed: “The Taliban have removed some of their subjects like sports, civil rights subjects, social studies, and some other subjects.”
Mental Health Consequences
Interviewees spoke often about trauma, fear, uncertainty, and a loss of their identities as students or workers in the months since the Taliban’s return. One woman said that on the day Ghazni fell to the Taliban: “I felt so hopeless that day, because I have a small daughter. I was working so hard to make a brighter future for her. I had imagined many things for her to learn and become. I felt that I lost all the plans I had for my daughter’s future.”
“I am keeping low profile now,” said a woman who said she had been active on social media advocating for justice and women’s rights. “I have stopped activism and it’s as if I have closed my eyes to reality.
“I’m an independent woman – I used to travel alone, and I lived alone,” a former medical student said. “It’s hard to think of staying home now…It affects my mental health. We had so many dreams and many big goals in life; dreams and goals vanished before our own eyes. Psychologically, this state of uncertainty affects us too much. A group of people who are complete misogynists is controlling our life now. It's too hard to bear this.”
Many interviewees struggled to find purpose. “I suggested teaching girls in my community for free,” the medical student said. “But no one accepted. There is no motivation. They came back to me asking, ‘What have you achieved when you studied?’ Because we are all staying home, there’s no point.”
“I wanted to serve my family and society, but unfortunately, I can’t now,” another former student said. “Since I’m not working and there are no activities outside for women, I don’t leave home at all. It’s very hard, staying home.”
Interviewees described intense social isolation. A woman who previously worked for a nongovernmental group with other women said her brothers had asked her to stay at home, but she missed her work desperately. “It feels as though I have lost something when I don’t check in with other women.”
“Before the Taliban, I used to hang out with my male friends,” one woman said. “I used to go to places and sightseeing with my friends. But after the Taliban everything is banned for us. For men, things haven’t changed…A few days ago, when my male friends were arranging a trip, I told them they have forgotten about me. They said the situation is dire, it’s difficult – but they miss me… We are not comfortable anymore. We used to be ourselves, but now, we need to perform, look angry, so that the Taliban think we are decent women.”
Feelings of isolation were sometimes exacerbated by others celebrating the Taliban’s return. “When the Taliban took over, most of the people in the hospital turned out to [support the Taliban],” a health worker said. “They thanked God, saying jihad and mujahidin won and the infidels lost. I didn’t expect it from some people.”
Afghan women have regularly protested against Taliban abuses since the group retook the country on Aug 15. We have cheered for their bravery & feared for their safety. On Jan 16 the Taliban response took a particularly scary turn. https://t.co/5rvNl0Y2nv pic.twitter.com/4xYrK5MS3E— Heather Barr (@heatherbarr1) January 19, 2022
The Taliban should fully respect the human rights of all women and girls and ensure full gender equality in accordance with their obligations under international human rights law. The UN and other international bodies, foreign governments, and other entities, including UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the incoming UN special rapporteur on Afghanistan should press the Taliban to meet its international human rights obligations. Donors should engage with the Taliban regarding their violations of the rights of women and girls in Ghazni and across the country and should work to resolve the humanitarian crisis without deprioritizing the rights of women and girls.
The Taliban should urgently:
- Clarify that women and girls are free to leave their homes at any time, alone or with others, and dress as they choose;
- End all requirements for women to be accompanied by a mahram, and at least reiterate and require Taliban members to comply with the Taliban spokesperson’s statement in September that women are not obliged to have a mahram for journeys of less than three days’ duration;
- Reopen all government secondary schools and universities, and encourage and facilitate the reopening of private educational institutions;
- Permit all women to participate in any form of employment;
- Reestablish the Women’s Affairs Ministry and its subnational offices; and
- Appropriately discipline Taliban members who harass, threaten, or otherwise interfere with women’s and girls’ rights and establish a meaningful system for women and girls to report abuse.
Donors should urgently support assistance to women and girls in Ghazni and across the country that is tailored to the current crisis. This assistance should include:
- Humanitarian support and livelihood opportunities, especially for women-headed households and households in which women were the primary wage-earners;
- Education support, including through community-based education programs operated by nongovernmental groups;
- Psychosocial support and mental health services, provided in a gender-sensitive manner;
- Protection services for women and girls facing gender-based violence; and
- Support for Afghan women and girls facing persecution, including outside of Afghanistan.
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