Women in Afghanistan: How the return of Taliban control erased 20 years of progress

4 mn read

Afghan women are still fearing for their freedom after the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan. Old restrictions were imposed rapidly and shifted the country backwards to its oppressive past. The US withdrew all troops from the country last month which had been there since the 911 attacks in 2001. The Taliban takeover is causing a set back in gender equality, women’s rights, violence and poverty.

During the past 20 years, Afghan women could attend school and complete college degrees while participating freely in public life. Beauty salons showed billboards with images of women and women were able to work in their dream professions. But it took just days for all that progress to come crashing down. With the Taliban forcing working women out of their jobs and into their homes, many can no longer afford food for their families as prices surge.

In the late-1990s when the Taliban last controlled Afghanistan, women were banned from going to school and work, had to cover up completely, and could not leave the house without a man. They could be killed if they didn’t follow the rules. After the US invaded Afghanistan and removed the Taliban from power in 2001, women reportedly made up at least 25% of the student population at public universities and could sit side by side with their male classmates without a strict dress code required.

“We are so worried and afraid of the Taliban.” said Sahar, who is currently living in Kabul. Sahar is struggling to find a way to leave the country and come to the United States to save her parents from the dangerous conditions they are living in, “It is a risk but I try my best,” she said.

After her mother was leaving her office, she noticed members of the Taliban began following her in a car. She immediately started to run while fearing for her safety, but accidentally tripped on the street and broke her foot from the fall. The group eventually found their home address and now Sahar remains inside the entire day with her mom to prevent being seen outside — only her father is able to leave the house to get basic necessities.

Sahar is studying engineering and was on her way to finish her last year in order to graduate before the Taliban closed her university. “I have big plans for my future but when I see that I can’t reach my dreams it’s so hard for me.” Sahar is worried for the future of her job as well, as she was working in the ministry of housing and land but the Taliban got rid of the ministry that was connected to engineering for women.

The Taliban also quickly abolished the country’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs and announced that there are no longer any women in the Taliban’s newly named interim cabinet of ministers.

The group insisted they had changed and that they would be more tolerant with women this time around by allowing them to continue their studies. But since they seized control, they are only allowing women to study at gender-segregated universities under the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law).

Women can now only be taught by female teachers in classrooms where they will be separated from male classmates.They are also being required to wear a hijab in the classroom and the Taliban has to reportedly approve which subjects can be taught to make sure they are in line with “Islamic, national, and historical values.”

The streets of Afghanistan’s capital were mainly filled with women marching and risking their lives to demand equal rights. Protesters marched the streets of Kabul chanting, “We want equal rights, we want women in government.” The Taliban was shown in videos violently responding to the protests by beating women with batons, whips, pointing guns, and firing weapons into the air to disperse crowds.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, many journalists and reporters covering the protests were also detained and attacked with some needing to be treated in a hospital. The Taliban proceeded to ban protests, saying demonstrators must get permission from the Ministry of Justice and security services to approve the location and time of the protests, along with the banners that will be used — making it even harder for women to demand their rights.

In contrast to the recent protests, a group of 300 women wearing face veils attended an event at the Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul, in which the women spoke of the country’s new leaders before going to a pro-Taliban rally on the streets.

On social media, many women began sharing photos in their traditional colorful clothing to fight against the Taliban’s all black niqab that covers the entire face and body.

On September 17th, an initial group of 37,000 Afghans were headed to states across the US. California is projected to receive the largest number of Afghans at 5,255, followed by Texas at 4,481 according to State Department data obtained by AP news. The group of refugees includes Afghans who helped the US government and those who applied for a Special Immigrant Visa. Only states not receiving any from this first group include Wyoming, West Virginia, South Dakota, Hawaii and Washington, D.C. Along with that, Amazon, Facebook, Pfizer, and UPS – and 29 others – pledged to hire and train Afghan refugees in the US in an effort to help Afghans jump-start their new lives.

It was reported that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is using humanitarian parole for certain people leaving Afghanistan with no legal status to be allowed into the US faster. The Biden administration will be depending on Congress to provide additional resources for Afghans brought to the country.

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Victoria Gonzalez is a U.S. correspondent for Eat News who covers a variety of topics about the entertainment world and politics.


Eat News is a Taiwanese digital media, analyzes current events and issues through column articles, videos, visual aid, and exclusive interviews.

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