A year since Taliban's Afghanistan takeover - what has changed for women and girls?

Afghan girls participate in a lesson at Tajrobawai Girls High School, Herat, last year before the bans took hold.
Afghan girls participate in a lesson at Tajrobawai Girls High School, Herat, last year before the bans took hold. Credit: AP

Afghanistan faces a "bleak future" a year on from the Taliban takeover, as women and girls bear the brunt of the ruling power's hardline stance.

Taliban fighters captured the capital of Kabul on August 15, 2021, bringing militant forces back into power 20 years after the US invasion in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

The fall of Kabul triggered a large-scale and chaotic US-led evacuation that led to criticism of Western forces' handling of the withdrawal.

Those who stayed face a desperate situation.

Since the toppling of the Western-backed government, Afghanistan has fallen further into economic ruin.

The Noor Mosque outside Kabul has noted the number of girls who come to learn Quran has multiplied after the closure of schools. Credit: AP

Millions are living in dire poverty as international aid dries up. More than half - over 20 million - of the country's population are living in a state of extreme food insecurity, according to Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO).

The economic hardship is having a direct result on women's and girls' freedoms, education, and rights.

Some desperate families have been driven to marry off their young daughters, while child labour is on the rise.

Meanwhile, many girls are still waiting to return to secondary school a year after the Taliban promised it wouldn't ban them from classrooms. The move to bar girls from school was so sudden, that many turned up at their classroom as usual in March.

Women are also forced once again to cover up in public, with only their eyes showing and by this April this year, the Taliban was forbidding women from travelling alone.

Children are among those suffering amid Afghanistan's decline.

Waheedullah Hashmi, external relations and donor representative with the Taliban-led administration, said at the time "we don’t say they will be closed forever".

But the hard-liners in the Taliban-led government have evidently wielded a strong influence.

Despite the Taliban promising to respect women's rights to education and work, girls aged over 11 were barred from secondary education last September.

Taliban fighters celebrate one year since they seized the Afghan capital, Kabul. Credit: AP

But the decree does not have widespread support among Taliban leadership across the region, and edicts have been erratic.

Some Taliban leaders, like Sirajuddin Haqqani, have permitted the education of schoolgirls in neighbouring Pakistan.

While a handful of Afghan provinces continue to provide education to all, many rural areas, particularly Pashtun tribal regions, have closed educational institutions for girls and women.

The religiously driven Taliban administration in those regions fears that pressing the issue of enrolling girls beyond 11 in school could alienate their rural base.

But appeasing their hard-line faithful by restricting the lives of women and girls comes at the expense of further cutting off the international community - and disrupting efforts to increase foreign aid to the country.

Some are trying to find ways to keep education from stalling for a generation of young women and underground schools in homes have sprung up.

Natalia Kanem, executive director of the UN's sexual and reproductive health agency, said in a statement that Afghan females must not be forgotten.

"As the world faces multiple, overlapping crises, we must not forget the women and girls of Afghanistan. When women’s and girls’ basic rights are denied, we are all diminished,” she said.

Most women have been barred from working in government departments.

Afghan women used to enjoy the freedom to study and work before the Taliban rule despite the existing problems.

But the Taliban's return robbed most women of even their basic right to education, and many women in high-profile jobs were forced into hiding as they feared for their lives.

Afghans awaiting evacuation after the Taliban takeover. Credit: MoD

Neil Turner, NRC Country Director for Afghanistan: "The future is very bleak. We see this is a precipice, and we are driving towards the precipice without even a safety belt on."

On Monday, Taliban fighters staged small victory parades on foot, bicycles and motorcycles in the streets of the capital.

About 100,000 people fled the country in August 2021 after the Taliban seized control of Kabul.

The last British troops left Afghanistan by August 31, after helping to evacuate more than 15,000 people out of the country.

The government faced criticism after hundreds of Afghans who helped the UK during the war were left behind, and many continue to face the dangers of Taliban rule.

A year on, schools stood empty as the Taliban announced a public holiday to mark the day, which they refer to as “The Proud Day of August 15" and the “First Anniversary of the Return to Power.”

During a gathering to mark the anniversary, the Taliban deputy prime minister, Abdul Salam Hanafi, offered congratulations to “the entire nation on the day of the conquest of Kabul, which was the beginning of the complete end of the occupation”.

In remarks broadcast live by state radio and TV, he boasted of what he described as “great achievements" under the Taliban, such as an alleged end of corruption, improved security and banned poppy cultivation.

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