Afghan women’s lives since the Taliban came to power
By Nour-Jihane Dahman
The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 represented a watershed moment for the country, especially for its women. Afghan women suddenly found themselves battling uncertainty and the fear of losing their hard-won rights and freedoms after two decades of progress in gender equality. With an emphasis on their challenges, resiliency, and the contribution of international players to determining their destiny, this article intends to shed light on the experiences of Afghan women since the Taliban’s return to power.
To understand the current situation of Afghan women, it is crucial to consider the historical context. Afghanistan has a long history of patriarchal traditions and periods of conflict, which have profoundly affected women’s lives. The Taliban’s previous rule from 1996 to 2001 was marked by severe restrictions on women’s rights, including limitations on education, employment, and movement. The subsequent two decades saw gradual improvements in gender equality, with increased access to education and participation in various sectors.
Since the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan, Afghan women have been confronted with a host of important challenges that have significantly disrupted their lives. One of the most pressing concerns is the severe restrictions placed on girls’ education, jeopardizing the progress made in recent years. Reports have surfaced of schools closing their doors to female students or segregating them into separate classes. According to UNESCO, as of 2021, Afghanistan had made notable strides in girls’ education, with female enrollment in primary schools increasing from 5 percent in 2001 to 39 percent. However, the recent setbacks are threatening to reverse these gains.
Another critical issue is the limited economic opportunities for Afghan women. Many who had previously secured employment and financial independence are now grappling with job losses and reduced prospects. The implementation of gender segregation policies and stringent Taliban regulations has led to the exclusion of women from various sectors of the workforce. According to the World Bank, prior to the Taliban’s return, women accounted for approximately 22 percent of the labor force in Afghanistan, and they actively contributed to the nation’s economic growth. However, the current circumstances have significantly impeded their ability to participate in the formal economy.
Furthermore, Afghan women are facing severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. Reports have emerged detailing travel constraints, requiring women to be accompanied by male relatives when venturing outside their homes. Such limitations not only curtail women’s independence but also hinder their access to education, employment, and healthcare.
Additionally, Afghan women activists, journalists, and human rights defenders have been subjected to grave threats. Intimidation and violence against these individuals have become distressingly common, further silencing voices that are crucial for advocating women’s rights and gender equality.
In the realm of healthcare, concerns abound regarding women’s access to medical services, particularly in rural areas. Female healthcare workers have been discouraged from practicing, and there is a growing fear that women’s medical needs may be overlooked or neglected. This situation exacerbates the already challenging healthcare landscape in Afghanistan, where maternal mortality rates were among the highest globally prior to the Taliban’s resurgence.
Afghan women have proven to be remarkably resilient and resistant despite these challenges. Women’s rights advocates, civil society organizations, and individuals have persisted in speaking out for these rights, frequently at great personal danger. Afghan and international initiatives and protests led by women have raised awareness of their predicament.
The international community wields significant influence in supporting Afghan women amidst the challenges posed by the Taliban’s resurgence. For instance, humanitarian aid, backed by substantial financial commitments, has been instrumental. The United Nations reported that in 2021, international donors pledged nearly $1.3 billion in aid to Afghanistan, with a portion designated for women’s welfare. These funds have facilitated the distribution of food, shelter, and medical supplies, addressing immediate needs.
Diplomatic pressure, backed by both individual nations and international organizations, is being exerted to compel the Taliban to respect women’s rights. For instance, the United States and its allies have engaged in diplomatic dialogues with the Taliban, advocating for continued access to education, healthcare, and employment for Afghan women. Diplomatic channels have also pushed for inclusive governance structures that involve women in decision-making processes.
Resettlement efforts have seen countries like the United States, Canada, and European nations offering asylum and protection to at-risk Afghan women and their families. As of 2021, the U.S. initiated Operation Allies Welcome, aiming to resettle thousands of Afghan allies, including women’s rights activists and journalists, who faced threats under the Taliban’s rule.
However, to ensure the long-term protection and empowerment of Afghan women, sustained and coordinated efforts are imperative. Ongoing funding for humanitarian aid, informed by the stark reality that 18 million Afghans required humanitarian assistance in 2021, remains crucial. Consistent diplomatic pressure is needed to hold the Taliban accountable and to ensure that women’s rights, which saw significant gains over the past two decades, are not sacrificed.
Sustaining support for Afghan civil society organizations is equally vital; for instance, organizations like Afghan Women’s Network have been instrumental in advocating for women’s rights and facilitating women’s participation in all sectors of society. These concerted efforts, backed by statistics and a commitment to gender equality, are essential to safeguard the hard-won rights and dignity of Afghan women in the face of adversity and to build a more equitable future for them.
Finally, Afghan women’s perseverance shines through suffering. While international efforts in humanitarian aid, diplomacy, and resettlement are admirable, they must be sustained and coordinated. It is critical to maintain assistance funding, diplomatic pressure to protect women’s rights, and long-term support for civil society organizations. Afghan women are not only symbols of tenacity, but also important drivers of change. Their journey necessitates continual worldwide attention and support in order to secure their rights, goals, and dreams in a difficult landscape, making it a global cause.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi!! My name is Nour-Jihane and I’m a French law student. Throughout my life, I always had a deep connection to social justice issues. Growing up, I was raised in an environment that emphasized the significance of tackling human rights violations. Writing for WIP allows me to explore and contribute to important conversations about social issues.