Return to the Dark Days- The Situation of Women in Afghanistan


Afghanistan, more famously known as the Graveyard of Empires, has been in the news quite frequently due to the geopolitical crisis that it has been undergoing for the past few decades. 

But the matters took a toll for the worse in the country after the complete withdrawal of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in the month of August 2021, which was then followed by the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, an ultraconservative political and religious group, in only ten days. (As opposed to the estimated three months)

The situation of Women in Afghanistan during the previous Taliban rule period (1996-2001)

The re-establishment of Taliban rule in the country is of grave concern, especially, when it comes to the situation of women in Afghanistan. The Taliban has been internationally notorious for its brutality against women and its misogynistic ideology during its ruling era.

During its past regime, the assault on the status of women’s rights included the closure of universities (for women) and the forceful withdrawal of nearly all women from their jobs. Not only that, but they also restricted access to medical care for women, brutally enforced a strict dress code, and restricted the ability of women to move about in the city alone. 

The Taliban had enforced the wearing of the burqa and prohibited the use of makeup with threats, fines, and on-the-spot beatings for the defaulters.  

” Women are imprisoned in their homes and are denied access to basic health care and education… A girl of seven is beaten for wearing white shoes.” – President George W. Bush, Remarks to the Warsaw Conference on Combating Terrorism, November 6, 2001

Following the proceedings of the nine-eleven attack by the Al-Qaeda operatives, the then US President George W. Bush signed into a joint resolution allowing the use of violence against those responsible for nine-eleven. 

With British support, U.S. military began an airstrike against the Taliban and launched the ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ which was succeeded by the fall and surrender by the Taliban forces. 

“By helping to build an Afghanistan that is free from this evil and is a better place in which to live…” President George W. Bush

In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute, President George W. Bush called for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. 

Following an election, Karzai became the first democratically elected head of Afghanistan in 2004. Over the years the country went through a lot of turmoil but the situation for women was much better than it had ever been during the Taliban ruling era.


Current status of women under the present-day Taliban rule 

In the first press briefing after taking power, a Taliban spokesman said issues like the media and women’s rights would be respected, “within the framework of Islamic law(Sharia).”

According to an article by Gandhara, a website dedicated to local journalism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, despite the repeated claims by the Taliban that it has changed, many of the past policies have returned to areas under its control. According to the same report, the Taliban claims it is not the same brutal group that first ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Habiba Danesh, a parliamentarian, says that the Taliban has also been forcing single or widowed women to marry the fighters.

Afghan women have been allowed to travel long distances by road only if they are accompanied by a male relative.


Education Rights

“Across the country, the rights and aspirations of an entire generation of girls are dismissed and crushed”- Agnès Callamard, Secretary-General of Amnesty International

While the Taliban has allowed elementary schools for boys and girls to reopen, the middle and high schools for girls have remained closed. 

According to a report published by the  United Nations (UN) in early January, 2022, the closure of schools for girls in middle and high schools is backed by the argument that women and men must be separated and that female students have to abide by a specific dress code.

Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan has become the only country in the world that openly limits education based on gender.

Officials have previously avoided confirming that there was an outright ban but in an interview with the BBC in the beginning of December 2021, the then-acting Deputy Education Minister Abdul Hakim Hemat confirmed that girls would not be allowed to attend secondary school until a new education policy was approved.


Work rights

Since coming into power, apart from healthcare workers, the Taliban have told most female workers, including female government employees, to stay at home. 

The Taliban claim that their restrictions on women working and girls studying are temporary and only to ensure all workplaces and learning environments are safe for them.

The group has banned women from appearing in television dramas and ordered female journalists and presenters to wear headscarves on screen.

Filming or display of images of women anywhere, including in newspapers, books or posters, has been strictly prohibited.


Women in Sport

The August airlift in Afghanistan included several successful escapes, including the women’s national soccer team, freed through a rescue operation run by a group of American volunteers,  the Tzedek Association, a nonprofit U.S. group whose founder, Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, reached out to Kim Kardashian to help pay for a chartered plane to the United Kingdom, for the team.

Yet many more women in sports remain, including thirty four female volleyball players and staff of the women’s adult and youth national teams.

The Taliban have indicated that they will ban female participation in sports. 

 “We have no clear future after years of struggling against hurdles to have a place in our beloved sport.” said one of the players. “I have not been outside the house since the Taliban took over. It is very difficult.”

At-risk Groups 

Women working as human rights activists, judges, prosecutors, security personnel, former government employees, and journalists, are amongst the few women of Afghanistan that are under the highest threat.

Because of the omnipresent threat that is visible, some of these females have fled while some have already become victims to the hands of the extreme measures taken by the Taliban regime.


Politics and Judiciary

Women involved in politics and the judiciary are at high risk because of their past roles.  

According to a report published by the United Nations, many experts condemn an attempt to steadily erase women and girls from public life, pointing out the closure of the Ministry of Women Affairs and the occupation of the premises of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Women have been protesting against the newly-appointed Taliban government, which is all-male and includes people blacklisted by the UN, by carrying out marches that have been deemed as illegal by the Taliban regime. 

The Taliban have said women can be involved in the government, but not hold ministerial positions.


Women in Military

Women who were once a part of the armed forces are now living under the fear of their uncertain future.  

According to an article published in The Wall Street Journal, before the fall of the Afghan republic, there were around 6,300 women on the payroll of the armed forces and the police which accounted for around 2% of the total personnel.  

“Many of these women don’t have years left. If they worked with the prior government or with U.S. forces, truthfully, there is a bounty on their head,” said a U.S. Air Force officer in an article published in The Wall Street Journal.



Donor nations like the United Kingdom have told the Taliban that they must respect women’s rights before financial aid is restored. As per an article published by the National News on  February 15, 2022, the United Kingdom is preparing to co-host an international summit to tackle the humanitarian crisis in the nation and the United Nations aims to raise an amount of $4.4 billion for Afghanistan in its biggest ever appeal for a single country.

After the takeover by the Taliban regime, the Afghan economy has been plummeting ever since the withdrawal of the United States and other allied forces, with GDP falling by 30 percent primarily because of the abrupt cutoff of aid of about eight billion dollars a year which was equivalent to 40% of the country’s GDP. The economic crisis has further been exponentiated due to the combined effects of the frozen 9 billion dollars worth of foreign exchange reserves of Afghanistan and the interruption in the inflows of cash dollars.

As of now, the country faces a deep humanitarian and economic crisis which has worsened owing to the hasty removal of international support and the condition of the female population in Afghanistan seems to be in jeopardy.

Since new updates are coming in on the situation of women in Afghanistan every day, we have only covered what has happened till February 15, 2022.


Written by Namrata Gupta for MTTN

Edited by Shivangi Acharya for MTTN

Featured Image by Fatinha Ramos

Artwork by Hangama Amiri

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