Efforts to erase women and girls from everyday life in Afghanistan have only increased one year since the Taliban took power on August 15, 2021.
Women and girls continue to face restrictions on their basic human rights imposed by the Sunni Islamist militant group for the first time since 2001. Traces of two decades of hard-won women’s rights barely remain amid a economic crisis, drought and oppressive mandates.
The Taliban believe that educating women goes against Islam, that wearing the hijab is now compulsory and enforced, and that women cannot go to work or travel freely without a male guardian. Afghan women have been promised the right to pursue education and work under the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law, but the group has failed to deliver.
Human rights groups are calling on the international community to take a tough stance against the Taliban to protect Afghan women and girls.
“Girls bear the brunt of the deteriorating situation,” Chris Nyamandi, country director for Save the Children in Afghanistan, said in a statement. “They miss more meals, suffer from isolation and emotional distress, and stay home while the boys go to school. It is a humanitarian crisis, but also a disaster for children’s rights.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are demanding sanctions and travel bans to hold the Taliban to account.
Here are seven facts about how life has changed for women and girls in Afghanistan that demonstrate why we must continue to support gender equality in the country.
1. Afghan girls are twice as likely to go to bed hungry as boys.
Economic hardship in Afghanistan means that 97% of families are struggling to feed their families and girls are eating less than boys, according to Save the Children’s latest report, “Breaking Point: Children’s Lives One Year Since of Taliban power”.
Women and girls make up more than half of the people in Afghanistan who struggle to eat enough, according to the World Food Programme, and 85% of female-headed households resort to drastic measures to feed their families.
According to Save the Children, girls were twice as likely as boys to often go to bed hungry and 9 in 10 girls said their meals had decreased in the past year. The girls also reported that they feared losing weight and lacked the energy to study, play and work.
2. More than 45% of Afghan girls do not go to school.
Hundreds of thousands of girls and young women have not been able to go to school since the Taliban took power.
In September 2021, the Taliban ordered the reopening of secondary schools, but only for male teachers and students without mentioning women and girls – seen as a de facto ban reversing years of gender equality processes. Some schools reopened for girls in some provinces due to public pressure, but the vast majority of schools across the country remained closed.
Earlier this year, the Taliban announced that all students, including girls, could return in March 2022 at the start of the new school year, but when the girls returned to secondary school that week, they were sent home by the Taliban the same day due to dress code issues. The Ministry of Education, in a statement released later in the day, said education for girls beyond grade six had been suspended indefinitely, sparking global outrage.
More than 45% of girls said they were out of school, compared to 20% of boys, according to Save the Children, due to barriers such as economic hardship and community attitudes towards education. girls’ education. A small minority of girls and women study online and in illegal secret schools, but many families lack the technology or the funds to meet tuition and additional costs.
Universities will also run out of new female students if the ban on girls attending secondary school remains in place, according to the Guardian. Some colleges are open to women under strict gender segregation and even those who are allowed to continue their education may be restricted to Taliban-approved fields of study, such as education and health care.
Behavioral and dress code restrictions, as well as Taliban harassment of women, have created unsafe learning environments that disadvantage female students. Many female students have either stopped going to school or decided not to enroll in university at all.
3. 26% of Afghan girls show signs of depression.
Reports show that the mental health problems of Afghan women and girls have increased. Caregivers reported to Save the Children that 26% of girls in Afghanistan showed signs of depression compared to 16% of boys, and 27% of girls showed signs of anxiety compared to 18% of boys.
Girls who took part in the organization’s focus groups said worry and bad dreams contributed to sleep problems. They also said that since the Taliban takeover, they can no longer participate in activities that used to make them happy, such as spending time with relatives and friends and going to parks and shops.
Additionally, they expressed their disappointment and anger that they can no longer go to school and said they felt hopeless about their future because their previous rights and freedoms had been taken away.
Meena* (12)’s father arranged her marriage because her family had no food and desperately needed money.
4. Girls accounted for 88% of child marriages in Afghanistan since last year.
When families face economic hardship, girls are often the first to pay the price, because getting them married means one less mouth to feed.
The economic situation in Afghanistan has left households without enough food or basic items and is increasing the number of child marriages within communities, according to Save the Children. According to Amnesty International, the lack of educational and professional opportunities for women and girls, families forcing women and girls to marry Taliban members and Taliban members forcing women and girls to marry them all contribute to this increase. .
Of the children who said they had been forced into marriage to improve their family’s financial situation in the past year, 88% were girls.
5. Women have lost the right to peaceful protest.
Police have halted protests led by female activists in Kabul and other cities since the Taliban took power.
According to Amnesty International, women who have tried to oppose the group by demonstrating peacefully have been threatened, arrested, detained, physically and psychologically tortured and subjected to enforced disappearances. The demonstrators who were arrested were denied food, ventilation, sanitary products and health care.
To be released, the protesters were forced to promise that they and their families would never again demonstrate or speak publicly about their experiences of detention.
6. Women’s freedom of movement is more restricted.
Women and girls can no longer travel long distances without the accompaniment of a male guardian, known as a mahram.
The Taliban announced in December 2021 that women could travel no more than 45 miles without a male escort. The mandate is not consistently enforced, but women continue to fear repercussions, especially poor and more vulnerable women who are more at risk.
The restriction has limited access to essential services like health care, with almost 10% of the population having to travel more than two hours to reach a medical facility and almost half having to travel more than 30 minutes. There are also reports that Taliban officials have blocked doctors from treating women without a male guardian, but even accompanied women may not feel comfortable discussing issues such as reproductive care in front of them.
In May 2022, the Ministry for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice advised all women to wear a burqa or face covering in public and warned that they should not leave their homes at all. . The guidelines are not strictly enforced in cities like Kabul, but rights groups have reported that the Taliban have meted out harsh punishments, such as whippings and stonings, to girls and women who run away, are fleeing domestic violence, resisting forced marriage or having illicit sex in rural areas. areas.
There is also anecdotal evidence that the Taliban beat girls for smiling or wearing tight clothes.
7. Women have left the workforce in droves.
After the takeover, Taliban Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund claimed that women would be allowed to continue working, but female government workers in Kabul had their salaries reduced and ordered to stay at work. home, except for women whose work could not be done by men. Civil servants who violated the dress code wearing the hijab were threatened with dismissal.
Women’s participation in the Afghan workforce peaked at around 22% just before the COVID-19 pandemic, but hundreds of thousands more jobs have been lost since the Taliban took over, disproportionately affecting women.
All industries were affected, but some were more affected than others. According to the Afghan Women’s Chamber of Commerce, more than 3,500 women owners of small and medium-sized businesses had to stop their businesses because some feared being punished for not covering their faces.
It’s been a year since the Taliban took control of #Afghanistan.
The girls tell us that their lives have been shattered.
▶️ 46% say they are not in school
▶️ 26% show signs of depression
▶️ 90% report missing meals
This is a humanitarian crisis — and a disaster for children’s rights. pic.twitter.com/opa11abNL9
— Save the Children US (@SavetheChildren) August 10, 2022
Nearly 40% of teachers in the country were women before the takeover, but today only a handful are still teaching. Moreover, at the end of 2021, it was estimated that only 100 of Kabul’s 700 female journalists were still working.
Many female Afghan doctors, especially those working in reproductive and sexual health, fled the country in search of safety. After initially discouraging them from entering, the Taliban has urged women in the health sector to return to work in August 2021. But the health sector continues to suffer a significant loss, with women who remain at risk for not complying with the rules.