Six Months On: How Afghan Women’s Lives Have Changed Under the Taliban

Teresa Casale
Teresa Casale
February 23, 2022

Over six months have passed since the Taliban seized Kabul on August 15, 2021. In that time, decades of hard-won progress have been reversed and nearly all facets of Afghan society have been subject to the Taliban’s version of Sharia Law.

Afghan women and girls have borne the brunt of the resurgence of the Taliban. Those who once had opportunity, freedom, and dreams of a brighter future are now living under gender apartheid – excluded from nearly all forms of public life and facing violence, intimidation, and threats for demanding the return of their full and equal rights.

Below, we outline the month-by-month rollback of Afghan women’s rights and freedoms under an emboldened Taliban regime. We hope it highlights the desperate situation that is essentially a war on women and girls and demonstrates how urgently they need our solidarity. 

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August 2021. The Taliban takes full control of Kabul on August 15th, immediately closing all schools and imposing “temporary restrictions” on Afghan women, supposedly due to the security situation. In press statements, the group crafts an image of itself as a new and more moderate “Taliban 2.0” and reassures women that they will have the “same rights” as men. Aware of the Taliban’s history, Afghan women see through the group’s rhetoric and take to the streets to protest.

September 2021. Despite its “media-savvy” approach, within months the Taliban shows its true colors as it begins drastically rolling back women’s rights. It excludes women from its new interim government and, in a clear “symbol for the disappearance of women’s rights in Afghanistan,” replaces the former Ministry of Women’s Affairs with the Ministry for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The group reopens secondary schools for boys, but not for girls, and announces that women will only be permitted to study at university in sex-segregated classes and if they adhere to a strict dress code. 

October 2021. The UN World Food Programme releases an analysis estimating that 22.8 million Afghans could face life-threatening levels of food insecurity in 2022 due to prolonged drought, conflict, and economic collapse. The Taliban allows girls in a limited number of provinces to return to secondary school. Its persecution of high-profile Afghan women, however, is only just beginning, as the group assassinates a former policewoman in her home and commits further “revenge attacks” on former government officials. In Kabul, Taliban officials intimidate women’s rights activists who take to the streets demanding their rights to education and employment and strike them with batons. International media expose these atrocities and say the Taliban is “reverting to its old tactics.” 

November 2021. Afghanistan’s humanitarian situation worsens as reports emerge of parents selling their children to afford food and basic goods. Meanwhile, the bullet-ridden body of a 29-year-old woman activist and economics lecturer is found in Mazar-i-Sharif in what appears to be the Taliban’s first murder of a women’s rights defender since it came to power. The group bans dramas that include female actors and orders women broadcasters to wear “Islamic hijab” on screen. The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) releases a report indicating that, of the 700 women working as journalists in Kabul in July 2021, only a few dozen are still actively employed.

December 2021. Afghanistan’s deteriorating humanitarian situation remains the focus of international media reports. Meanwhile, the Taliban continues its onslaught on Afghan women with a slew of new decrees restricting their behavior, movement, and appearances, prohibiting them from traveling more than 72km (45 miles) without a male relative and erecting checkpoints to ensure that taxi drivers comply. Amnesty International releases a report showing that essential services for women and girl survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) have been “decimated” by the Taliban – women’s shelters have been forced to close and convicted GBV perpetrators have been released from prison. The urgent need to recognize and support Afghan women becomes clear to the world: the BBC includes 50 Afghan women in its annual list of 100 inspirational women – celebrating the “scope of their bravery.” Across the Atlantic, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken names Rina Amiri as Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights. 

January 2022. Afghanistan becomes the “world’s largest humanitarian crisis” according to a report by the New Yorker while the Taliban clamps down hard on women’s rights activists, with reports emerging of protestors being threatened, assaulted, and having their homes raided. Four prominent women activists, including Tamana Zaryabi Paryani and Parwana Ibrahimkhel, are arrested and detained by the Taliban. As international concern for the detained Afghan women’s rights activists grows, Norway convenes three days of talks between Western officials and a Taliban delegation in Oslo from January 23 to January 25. At the talks, Afghan women and civil society representatives call on the Taliban to immediately release the detained activists, re-open secondary schools for girls, and include women in the de facto government.

February 2022. The Taliban faces mounting international pressure to halt its persecution of Afghan women and girls. 21 human rights organizations issue a statement condemning the ongoing abuse and harassment of women’s rights activists. Amid this pressure, the Taliban releases Mural Ayar and Dr. Zahra Mohammadi – both of whom had previously attended protests in Kabul.

In the six months since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, women and girls have seen their fundamental rights and freedoms drastically rolled back. As Afghan women continue to fight back – whether by attending online classes or persuading local officials to reopen schools – we must show them our solidarity. 

Sign the One Million Strong petition to show your support.

Teresa Casale
Teresa Casale
Executive Director