2 years into Taliban’s rule: Afghan women study in the shadows

Tuesday marks two years since Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban. Since then, the country has been directed by a de facto government with no international recognition, which has essentially excluded women from its society by banning them from schools, universities, and the workplace.

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On August 15, 2021, the Taliban conquered Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, from the American-backed government following Washington’s withdrawal. The United States held a presence in Afghanistan for 20 years during which it ousted the Taliban from power and supported the establishment of what was to have been a democratic government.

In the two years following the Taliban’s takeover, Afghanistan has transitioned into a state with no international recognition, becoming a sanctuary for various extremist and radical groups, as well as a prison for the female half of its population, according to Naeem Poyesh, Afghanistan’s former deputy ambassador in Brussels to the European Union and NATO and former acting ambassador in Vienna to the United Nations.

“Widespread human rights violations have become alarmingly routine, with extrajudicial killings, arrests, and torture occurring daily. Political dissidents, particularly those from minority ethnic groups, are tortured in prisons,” Poyesh told The Media Line, adding that women are heavily banned in every aspect of life.

Afghanistan’s economic crisis and social repression

The country’s economy is currently suffering from an economic crisis because of the repression of women, Selsela Ahmadi (not her real name), a women’s rights activist and defense lawyer in Kabul, told The Media Line. Ahmadi, who is not permitted to practice her profession due to the Taliban’s bans, says that the dire situation that most Afghans experience is likely due to the Taliban restrictions against women working.

 An Afghan woman walks past a beauty salon in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 6, 2023 (credit:  REUTERS/ALI KHARA) An Afghan woman walks past a beauty salon in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 6, 2023 (credit: REUTERS/ALI KHARA)

“You see today that most of the families do not have food to eat, and most of the children begging for the amount of money to have their breakfast or dinner,” she said, explaining that most Afghani women used to provide for their entire families.

“Today, half of the country or half of the society has been excluded from the job force and it is something that obviously affects a country’s economy,” Ahmadi added.

Ahmadi noted that women are banned from every single job except the ones related to healthcare or those jobs under the Taliban payroll. This means that professionals like her, including lawyers, teachers, and accountants, are sitting at home without the ability to work and provide for their families.

Despite the Taliban banning women to a large extent from education as well, many Afghan women have managed to continue their studies through online programs. The American University of Afghanistan and the University of the People are two of the institutions that provide Afghan women with the opportunity to study, often with scholarships.

The biggest challenge for women’s online education is Afghanistan’s poor socioeconomic situation, says Ajmal Shams, who was deputy minister in the former government of Afghanistan and vice-president of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party.

“Not many women have the luxury of having a stable internet connection to benefit from online universities,” he told The Media Line.

Even so, thousands of women are continuing their education online in one way or another. The University of the People said that over 2,500 of their students are Afghan women receiving a scholarship. But despite the women’s efforts, their diplomas will not earn them a job in Afghanistan.

“There is no way for them to have any job because even today, there are thousands of Afghan women and girls with a university degree and even master’s degrees. But they are still banned from working,” Ahmadi pointed out.

Regarding the deteriorating financial situation of the country, Shams added that the Afghan economy had been largely dependent on foreign aid, mostly from the US. With the fall of the previous government. to that, most domestic economic systems have collapsed, he noted.

“The Taliban have imposed steep taxes, and exploitation of foreign aid and widespread corruption are rampant,” Poyesh said.

He explained the example of acquiring a passport. Previously free, the process now reportedly costs upwards of two thousand dollars, which is “indicative of institutionalized bribery,” Poyesh explained.

He added that the feeling that the Taliban have seemingly secured a level of stability and economic prosperity is true only for their members and a fraction of the Afghan population that supported their rise.

“This relative wealth appears to derive from heavy taxation, alleged bribery, and purported misappropriation of foreign aid, without corresponding service provisions for the general population,” Poyesh said.

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