women’s issue

No Country for Women

Since the Taliban takeover, Afghan women remain constantly in the international headlines.

By Dr. Farah Naz | July 2023

In a country like Afghanistan, being a woman is a not easy and is quite a complicated matter. According to the World Bank statistics, there are around 49.5% women of the total population in Afghanistan with around 27% of females who were able to represent in the Parliament before the Taliban takeover. The World Health Organization reports that Afghanistan has a higher maternal mortality rate than all its six neighbours combined, however, the situation has further worsened under the Taliban government, which has banned girls’ education and their movement without male guardians. Ultimately such extreme restrictions have negatively impacted women and girls’ ability to seek medical care. So here the issue comes to a head: What’s the status of healthcare for women in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule?

Muhammad Hassan Ghyasi, acting deputy minister of public health, said in an interview that his ministry has received “clear instructions from the top level” to bring policies in line with the Taliban’s strict interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law. A new policy submitted recently to the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, for approval, would formalize a rule already applied in some hospitals that female health workers should treat women, while male health workers should treat men. Ghyasi said the policy will stipulate that if there is no qualified female doctor available, a female patient can see a male doctor. But with Afghanistan’s health system under strain — and an economic crisis fuelled by Western sanctions exacerbating hunger and sickness — the need for qualified medical professionals of both genders is greater than ever.

This marks a rare instance of the Taliban publicly and loudly promoting women’s education and employment. Training female doctors and nurses are part of the movement’s effort to prove it can provide essential services while building a society structured on gender segregation. The educational restrictions seem certain to limit the number of women in the coming years who can be trained as doctors.

Other Taliban policies, such as women can only travel with male guardians, have hamstrung the efforts of female doctors to practice. According to Gala Melgar, a gynaecologist in Khost, after the Taliban took control of the government, the hospital opened its admissions to women who were having normal deliveries because other facilities in the area weren’t able to accept all of the patients. At that point, hospital staff were seeing about 2,000 deliveries a month. Though the Taliban says they have allowed women to hold jobs that men can’t perform, such as certain healthcare positions, reports suggest that women haven’t returned to work because they were afraid of retaliation or harassment from Taliban officials. Many healthcare professionals have left Afghanistan out of fear for their safety, among other reasons.

Before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, many women and girls were already struggling to receive adequate healthcare due to a widespread shortage of medical professionals. According to WHO, Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover had 4.6 medical doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 people, which is below the threshold for a critical shortage of 23 professionals per 10,000 people while facilities such as modern forms of contraception that included prenatal and postnatal care, as well as cancer treatment, pap smears and mammograms, were often unavailable or non-existent, and that medical facilities often lacked staffing and essential supplies. Epidemics of polio, measles, malaria, dengue, cholera and Covid-19 had further strained the country’s healthcare system.

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