Taking My Dream to the Grave: Afghan Women Under Taliban Rule

Photo Credit: Human Rights Watch

Farzana Ahmadi had dreamed of holding a government office after graduating university. Now, she says, she will take her dream to the grave.

When the United States military left Afghanistan on August 31, 2021, the U.S. had in place a peace deal with the Taliban. The problem, however, is that the Taliban is only one of many groups – political and otherwise – in Afghanistan. While the U.S. and the Taliban may have a negotiated settlement on paper, there is no peace between the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan.

Farzana witnessed a neighbor getting flogged by the Taliban for walking outside with her face uncovered. Women are brutally beaten and lashed 40 times in public for accusations – never mind proof – of adultery. Instances of violence against women by the Taliban occurred even while the U.S. military was present in the country. But now that America is not only gone, but has signed a peace deal, the Taliban are free to do whatever they like with women.

In March of this year, after leading Afghans to believe that women would be allowed to return to the classroom, the Taliban further denied women their right to an education, citing a need to create a plan for women’s education that is “in accordance with Islamic Sharia law and Afghan culture.”

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report from January of this year reiterates that “the Taliban have banned women and girls from secondary and higher education, and altered curricula to focus more on religious studies.” In addition, the Taliban “dictate[s] what women must wear, how they should travel, workplace segregation by sex, and even what kind of cell phones women should have. They enforce these rules through intimidation and inspections.”

HRW blatantly states that the Taliban are violating women and girls’ rights to “health and education . . . freedom of movement, expression, and association, and deprived many of earned income.” After the U.S. withdrawal from the country, prices spiked, millions of women and men lost their source of income, and international aid funding quickly dried up. This has led to a lack of access to food, water, shelter, and healthcare across the country.

But perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is the mental health crisis affecting Afghani women and girls. Since the Taliban takeover, HRW found that many women cited feelings of “fear, anxiety, hopelessness, insomnia, and a deep sense of loss and helplessness.” Upon hearing that they would be barred from returning to school, many girls cried and would not get out of bed for days. 14 year-old Heela was at the top of her 9th grade class last year and looked forward to continuing into the 10th grade. But 8 months into the Taliban takeover, Heela attempted to end her own life by taking 20 sleeping pills. Her family found her and rushed her to the hospital where doctors were able to save her life. But what life is it that she’ll return to? Heela’s name means ‘hope.’ But today, under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, hope is in short supply for women and girls.

Heela’s mother – who has three other daughters – lamented, “‘Maybe ending our lives will be easier than continuing this life.’” The international community and specifically the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) must keep pressure on the Taliban to live up to their public commitment to allow girls to attend school. News agencies and media outlets must continue to shine the spotlight on human rights abuses in Afghanistan and push for freedom of press and independent journalism. While the world is consumed with the war in Ukraine, we cannot afford to forget about the women of Afghanistan. We must not abandon them again.

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