No Land for Women

Since the Taliban takeover, Afghan women have not only experienced physical abuse and social frustration, but mental health has also reached a serious threshold.

By Sara Danial | March 2023

It has been more than a year since the sudden exit of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan and the ensuing takeover by the Taliban in a war-torn land, where nearly four presidents had been openly declaring war on the country. Not only has the platonic transition of power to the Taliban had a devastating impact on the country’s women and girls, but many research studies also show that besides the physical mobility being restrained, they have gone through immense mental trauma since the faith-induced lot took control of Ghazni province in southeastern Afghanistan. With every human rights violation that occurs, the country is nothing short of a political, social, and economic mess. Does Afghanistan deserve this? No. Is it new for them? No, again. It has often been attacked during the fighting of the past 30 years.

Kabul has been a notorious example of having created enormous barriers to women’s right to equal access to health and education, physical mobility, freedom of expression, and of earning a sustainable income. While the country is at the ebb of a humanitarian crisis with these abuses, we recently came across the latest plunge – that women are not allowed to enter secondary schools. While we thought that nothing worse could happen for girls there, here we are – with yet another downright abuse.

Following the Taliban takeover, one can only imagine the cascading effects of these on the economic realm. High commodity prices, liquidity crisis, cash cut-off, all of which stemmed from previous donor countries, especially the US. So while peripheral issues of education and health are blatantly ignored, the population is struggling with the basic amenities – food, water, and shelter. So their mere existence is at stake.

There is a tug-of-war between conforming to the existing Taliban norm, and the pressure from the international community that has rendered the Afghan community desperate for basic survival. As many women had been the sole bread-earners of the family, they are at a loss of what to do, especially after the escalating food prices, transportation costs, and income loss. Only those working in the education and health sectors were allowed to work. And worse yet, even those were not paid owing to the perennial financial crisis.

In the peripheries, one can also witness the sublime changes to the curriculum, which shed light more on religious studies. With the ban on women from secondary and higher education, they dictate what women must wear, how they can move around, and the kinds of cell phones they can be in possession of. While the present looks bleak, the future is much darker.

Amidst this grave feeling of insecurity, they can see their dreams shattered in front of their eyes and the years of hard work going down the drain. They have no direction. Or future. The Taliban have dismantled the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the prevailing police authority. They are extracting food and money from the poor communities and are reportedly targeting women as prey to enforce intimidation, especially those who worked for foreign agencies and the earlier Afghan government.

Since the takeover, Afghan women have not only experienced physical abuse and social frustration, but mental health has also reached a serious threshold, such as fear, hopelessness, anxiety, helplessness, and insomnia. And none of it seems to end anytime in the near future. With many women practically kept as prisoners in their own homes, the country suffers from a wastage of resources that could genuinely drive the economy with the skills and talent of the female population that constitutes half of the inhabitants.

So all those who could become impactful and contributing members of the economy lost their paid employment. Only health workers and teachers are allowed to work while others working in government and non-government fields are forced to stay at home now. Most of them are primary bread-earners for their families and are at a loss for how they will feed the future.

“There is a tug-of-war between conforming to the existing Taliban norm, and the pressure from the international community that has rendered the Afghan community desperate for basic survival.”

Others working in the non-government organizations and foreign offices were not paid either – largely because these organizations were financed by foreign donors, which has entirely cut off since the Taliban takeover. So the conundrum of bans imposed by the Taliban has aggravated the financial crisis faced by women. Even at the subsistence level, for instance, in the farming sector, women are not allowed to work, which has restricted the number of exports and impacted the economy disastrously.

The disseminating effects of the same can be seen clearly. For example, Afghani women are adept at weaving and their embroidery is globally popular. However, now that they have stopped working, there is no buying and selling. And no motivation, no hope. The economy is near collapse. The banking system is frozen. The Central Bank of Afghanistan has been extricated from the international financial system with no access to the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

While marginal humanitarian aid flowing in, it is largely minimized and strictly curtailed owing to the Taliban’s restrictions. Logistical barriers, transferring issues, security apprehensions, absence of staff, precarious legal implications, and violations of several sanctions are only a handful of concerns that hinder any positive steps. Afghanistan has been officially named as one of the most food insecure countries by the UN World Food Programme, and yet the situation keeps worsening.

As the citizens’ savings dwindle with no hope of income perpetuity, the financial crisis is expected to leave many malnourished of hunger. The return of the Taliban has made survival not only difficult but has also rendered the existence vulnerable. The sad part is that there is no one to complain to, as there is no one to monitor the situation. So while this prevails, one can only hope and pray that the situation takes a different turn.