‘I don’t dare to go out anymore’: Women in Kabul live in fear after Taliban return

·5-min read

Since the Taliban captured the Afghan capital of Kabul on August 15, 2021, the Islamist group has effectively taken control of Afghanistan. As Taliban leadership works with officials to form a government, many Afghans have been left to wonder what the Taliban takeover means for vulnerable groups, particularly women and girls. Our Observer tells us that her life in Kabul has been pervaded by fear since the Taliban arrived.

The Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 before a US invasion, imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law on citizens. Under the previous Taliban rule, women were only allowed to leave home with a male guardian. They could not go to school, work or vote. Breaking any of these rules led to strict punishments, including flogging and stoning.

With the extremist group back in power in Afghanistan, women and girls fear a return to these strict standards. However, the Taliban has tried to convince the population that things will change.

The group has said that women will be allowed to play a role in government as well as hold jobs, in a way that aligns with Sharia law.

“The Islamic Emirate doesn't want women to be victims,” Enamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban's cultural commission, said in a TV interview to Afghan national television RTA, using the militants' term for Afghanistan. “They should be in the government structure according to Shariah law.”

A video shared online on August 16 showed Taliban officials meeting with female health workers, assuring them they would be able to freely practice their profession and have a safe working environment.

Such videos appear to be part of a Taliban campaign to reassure the population that women’s rights will be upheld under their regime. A Taliban spokesperson on Twitter rebuked a rumour that Taliban were forcing young girls to marry their fighters, calling it “poisonous propaganda”.

Despite these reassurances, women in other cities around Afghanistan have been told not to return to work. In Herat, for example, the Taliban told women journalists not to go to work, according to our Observer on the ground. In July, two women working at banks in Herat and Kandahar were harassed by Taliban fighters and told that male relatives should replace them at work.

Women in Herat were also turned away from universities after their city fell to the Taliban.

Even the Taliban’s reassurance that life would go on as normal in Kabul has not convinced many women, who have been unable to return to normal life – or even leave their homes – three days after the Taliban reached the capital.

‘I saw only two women, and they were being beaten by some Taliban fighters – apparently for not wearing their hijabs properly’

Our Observer, Ariana (not her real name), a PhD student studying abroad but back in Afghanistan for the summer, says the Taliban’s takeover has completely upturned life for women.

I have only left home one time since the Taliban occupied Kabul, and that was when I went to the airport to see if I could leave [Editor’s note: on August 16]. Obviously, it wasn't possible.

The city I saw was completely empty of women. In the entire journey to Kabul Airport and back, I saw only two women, and they were being beaten by some Taliban fighters – apparently for not wearing their hijabs properly. In the airport, there were many women alone, with their children or with their families, all trying to escape like me.

I was terrified to leave my house. I had to change my outfit and put on a more conservative hijab in order to get through the Taliban checkpoints. And since I got back home, I don’t dare to go out anymore. In three days, everything has changed for women here. I can’t leave my house alone.

How the Taliban are behaving right now is just an orchestrated performance to keep Western governments silent. They say ‘We will tolerate it if women nurses or doctors keep working, or if girls continue to study…’ But this is just not true.

Several videos have shown a group of women gathered in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood of Kabul holding placards, as Taliban fighters looked on. The women said they were protesting for economic, social and political rights under the new regime.

‘These men don’t understand that the world has changed suddenly for us, for women’

Some locals in Kabul have reported that life is hesitantly returning to normal, but for Ariana, this is not the reality for women.

I see people on social media – mostly men – saying that life is going back to normal because the electricity network is operating again, because it’s “safe” outside, or because there are no explosions. But these men don’t understand that the world has changed suddenly for us, for women. And it’s heartbreaking that even for journalists or activists in Afghanistan we are of secondary importance.

I feel there’s no more hope here for Afghan women. I have no doubt we will see the same scenes of violence against women and the same savagery that we saw in the 90s in Afghanistan. Women will be stoned, they won’t be able to go to school, and just forget about them working. The Taliban are the same people who they were 20 years ago.

I wanted to study, learn something and come back to my country and make it a better place, but it’s impossible now, I just have to leave and save my life.

Residents in Kabul have already begun preparing for new Taliban rules for women. Some shopkeepers removed advertising with pictures of women on their storefronts. Women have been told to wear more conservative clothing and not to leave home without a male relative.

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