A year of Afghan women's grief: A first hand account of being female under Taliban rule

Arefeh 40-year-old, an Afghan woman leaves an underground school, in Kabul, Afghanistan
An Afghan woman leaves an underground school, in Kabul, Afghanistan (stock image). Credit: AP

Taliban militants walked into Kabul a year ago and toppled the Western-backed government. Despite promising they would not stop girls from being educated and allow women to hold jobs, they banned girls over 11 from going to school in March and women's right to work is heavily restricted.

After 20 years of relative freedom, life as a girl or woman since August last year has changed dramatically, their rights and freedoms diminished.

An Afghan woman, who wants her identity protected, writes for ITV News a year on from the fall of Kabul. She has a master's degree and worked with a USAID project. She is now struggling to find a job and must adhere to the strict rules of the Taliban.

The devastation of Afghan women and girls began on August 15, 2021, and the world only condemned and sent out some declarations.

Now, Afghanistan is the only country in the world where women and girls are removed from active community involvement and half of the population is ignored.

I am a woman with a master's degree living under Taliban rule. My life gets more miserable day by day. What is my fault?

My fault is that I am a woman. Being a woman itself is a challenge in Afghanistan. Twenty-six years ago when the Taliban took over Afghanistan they banned all females from school.

Women march in support of the Taliban government outside Kabul University. Credit: AP/Bernat Armangue

I was in fourth grade (year five) and migrated along with my family to Pakistan, where I continued my education.

Now my daughters are experiencing the same situation I experienced. Unfortunately, this time even Pakistan is not allowing Afghans to go there. They only issue visas for people who travel for medical purposes. Women that go out are getting insulted and humiliated by Taliban members.

Recently, before Eid I went shopping, on the street, a Taliban came to me and called 'you’re a shameless woman', and said to my daughter 'why your hair is visible?' with a harsh voice. My daughter cried the whole day and asked me why I was born in Afghanistan. My daughters always read the Qur'an translation since she was six, and she knows very well that nowhere in the Qur'an does it mention that men are allowed to stand on the road and insult and humiliate women and girls.

Women stand inside an auditorium at Kabul University's education center during a demonstration in support of the Taliban government. Credit: AP Photo/Felipe Dana

The Taliban removed the Ministry of Women and set up the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention; girls beyond grade six (equivalent to year seven) were not allowed to go to school; then they made it mandatory for all the women and cover their faces outside; female employees at the Ministry of Finance were asked to quit their jobs and send a male relative to work in their place.

Why is everyone so silent when they see that women are getting educated all over the world? No one hears our voice. Those who raised their voice in Afghanistan are killed. They do not respect human dignity, they do not respect elders or children.

I would like to share stories of situations which I witnessed.

An Afghan woman walks past beauty salons with defaced window decorations, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: AP Photo/Bernat Armangue

One day I took a taxi from the market to come back home. On the way, the Taliban stopped the taxi and beat the driver. He didn’t even let the taxi driver talk and defend himself. A few days ago in Khair Khāna area, the Taliban noticed a lesson where girls were sitting cross-legged, talking and laughing to each other. The Taliban were angry and closed the lesson. Another day, they whipped a girl in her leg because she was wearing jeans. They called her shameless girl, following USA culture and wanting to promote Western culture. The girl cried, her leg was bleeding.

Given the worst economic situation and labour market, when a man applies for a job and they ask for qualifications, 'how many foreigners did you kill?'.

Most male employees who declined to grow a beard or adopt traditional Afghan clothing are sent home.

Afghan women and children sit in front of a bakery waiting for bread donations in Kabul's Old City Credit: AP/Bernat Armangue

Kids are being sold, not only because there is no hope for them or for their families, they are sold so they can afford to feed the other kids.

As a woman, I felt disappointed that the world has forgotten us and all the suffering of people from hunger, and poverty.

Even those girls that go to school, Taliban are bullying them and calling them bad words, asking them to wear long, black dresses and face coverings.

The Taliban regime is a group of people who are taking more than 25 million people hostage. We are tired of hearing 'Afghan women are brave, Afghan woman is a hero, Afghan women are strong'.

We need strong support of the world.

Click here to donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Afghanistan Crisis Appeal, a charity made up of 15 UK aid charities that specialises in humanitarian aid and disaster response. Its current appeal aims to help the eight million people in Afghanistan who are at risk of famine this winter.  Or phone 0370 60 60 610.

You can also donate now at unicef.uk/afghanistan-donate