Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 17, 2021.

Conflict & Justice

Afghanistan is under Taliban control. Women are worried about what it means for them.

What the Taliban envisions for the country’s future and its people is still unclear. Women are especially concerned about what Taliban rule means for them.

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Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 17, 2021. The Taliban declared an “amnesty” across Afghanistan and urged women to join their government Tuesday, seeking to convince a wary population that they have changed a day after deadly chaos gripped the main airport as desperate crowds tried to flee the country. 

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The Taliban arrived in 24-year-old Ghazal’s neighborhood last week, showing up on motorbikes, in cars and on foot.

Ghazal, who, like many Afghans, goes only by one name, didn’t want to say where she lives because she is worried about her safety.

“There were so many of them [Taliban fighters], I couldn’t believe my eyes. They had guns and the look in their eyes was terrifying.”

Ghazal, 24, Afghanistan

“There were so many of them [Taliban fighters], I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she said, speaking to The World on Monday, adding, “They had guns and the look in their eyes was terrifying.”

As of this past Sunday, the country is under Taliban control. The Taliban was able to take over most of Afghanistan in a matter of days. In some areas, the group faced intense fighting from Afghan security forces. In others, no shots were fired.

Related: 20 years of progress for Afghan women could disappear under Taliban rule

What the Taliban envisions for the country’s future and its people is still unclear. Women are especially concerned about what Taliban rule means for them.

The Taliban declared an “amnesty” across Afghanistan and urged women to join their government Tuesday, seeking to convince a wary population that they have changed a day after deadly chaos gripped the main airport as desperate crowds tried to flee their rule.

Older generations remember the Taliban’s extremist Islamist views, which included severe restrictions on women and girls, as well as public stonings and amputations before they were ousted by the US-led invasion following the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. 

Today, Afghanistan has a young population — roughly half is between 5 and 64 — and many Afghans are now experiencing life under the Taliban for the first time. For them, the Taliban’s rule represents regression for women’s rights and other hard-won freedoms.

Related: Afghans in a city under siege by the Taliban: ‘The insecurity has upended our lives’

Ghazal was too young to remember when the Taliban was in power in the 1990s. But already, the Taliban has upended her life, she said.

Until last week, Ghazal worked for a nongovernmental organization as a human resources specialist. In school, she studied accounting and was planning to apply for a master’s degree. Now, she is hunkered down at home, terrified to go outside.

Schools and universities are closed, she told The World over WhatsApp. The Taliban, who are in charge of her city now, say that only men can attend classes.

“We are just sitting at home, waiting to see how these men will determine our future.” 

Ghazal, 24, Afghanistan

“We are just sitting at home, waiting to see how these men will determine our future,” she said.

Afghans are 'still in shock’

Other women are also fearful of life under the Taliban. Many of them have heard the stories from their parents and others.

Parvin, a 24-year-old dentistry student in the western city of Herat, never imagined that she would see the Taliban in power in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s takeover in her city was accompanied by the sound of intense gunfire, she said.

“People were running to get home so they wouldn't get caught in the fighting. I’m still in shock. I don’t know what this new life under the Taliban is going to be like.”

Parvin, 24, Afghanistan

“People were running to get home so they wouldn't get caught in the fighting. I’m still in shock,” she said. “I don’t know what this new life under the Taliban is going to be like.”

In addition to the trauma of the Taliban taking control, by force, many women wonder how they will be able to make ends meet under new restrictions.

Related: This Afghan man who helped US Army Special Forces pleads for help to escape the Taliban: ‘They will kill us’

Like Somayeh, 21, who owns a fitness center in the city of Herat: “If they don’t let me continue my work, I have no idea what I’ll do. I know nothing else. I studied physical education and invested money in this business. What other options do I have?” she said.

Somayeh too hasn’t left home for the past week. But she said the men in her family have been going outside and are allowed to go about their business without any harassment.

That is the signature Taliban policy, according to 24-year-old women’s rights activist Ameneh. Men are given freedoms that women can only dream of. And she’s already seeing this play out in Taliban-controlled Herat.

“One of the first things they did is that they announced through mosque loudspeakers that people can go about their daily lives. But with one big exception: Women should not leave their homes unless absolutely necessary. They should also be completely covered and accompanied by a male relative.”

On the issue of covering, Ameneh keeps asking herself, what type of hijab is it that the Taliban want?

“Because here, no woman leaves home without covering,” she said.

She thinks soon, they will force women to wear a full burqa, like they did when they were in power 20 years ago.

“I won’t accept that,” she said.

Ameneh was 3 years old when the group took power in the 1990s. She doesn’t remember much, except one terrible scene is seared into her memory.

“One day, the Taliban came to our home and they took away my father. As they were taking him away, I ran after them, and begged them to let him go. I kept screaming until night fell.”

Ameneh, 24, women's rights activist, Afghanistan

“One day,” she said, “the Taliban came to our home and they took away my father. As they were taking him away, I ran after them, and begged them to let him go. I kept screaming until night fell.”

Her family is Hazara, an ethnic group in Afghanistan that has been persecuted by the Taliban.

Related: Former warlord Ismail Khan led a militia against the Taliban. He spoke to The World days before Afghans lost the fight.

“I was a kid and didn’t understand why my mother, sister and I were not allowed to leave the house,” she said. “I looked through the window and asked, ‘Why can’t I go play outside?’”

Ameneh’s father was released after the US and coalition forces brought down the Taliban in 2001.

Today, Taliban leaders claim that women in Afghanistan will be allowed to work and study. But only as far as sharia law permits.

The question on the minds of many Afghan women right now is how exactly will the Taliban interpret these laws in the year 2021?

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