What life is like for women under Taliban rule

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Women and teachers demonstrate inside a private school to demand their rights and equal education for women and girls, during a gathering for National Teachers Day, at a private school in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Oct. 5, 2021. (Ahmad Halabisaz/AP)
Women and teachers demonstrate inside a private school to demand their rights and equal education for women and girls, during a gathering for National Teachers Day, at a private school in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Oct. 5, 2021. (Ahmad Halabisaz/AP)

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It's been a year and a half since the negotiated withdrawal of U.S. troops allowed the Taliban to fully take over Afghanistan again.

The group made promises to the international community that it would respect women's rights.

Those promises have been broken.

"What will be our future? For how many years day they will be here? Maybe forever. Maybe for five years. Two years? If it is for one year more ... I cannot survive."

Today, On Point: Life for the women of Afghanistan today.


Mina, language teacher.

Najia Naseem, executive director of the NGO Women for Afghan Women (WAW). (@WAWHumanRights)

Rangina Hamidi, first female Minister of Education for Afghanistan. She officially lost her position on August 15th, the day Kabul fell. Professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, where she teaches global women's leadership.

Interview Highlights

On life in Afghanistan today

Mina: "I'm not able to go outside because the critical situation that I have, that I am suffering, as a teacher. That I was working in an international school and now I'm hiding in my home, and I cannot go outside. So I will say that the other women, they can go outside. When they are going outside, they are covering their faces. The situation, the woman's situation under the control of Taliban is severely bad. Prohibits us from education, living freely, working and other social activities. We can neither educate ourselves nor can live the way we want. We just think that we are in a bad situation. So this is our situation that we are living in our own country."

On reporting about life in Afghanistan today

Rangina Hamidi: "Afghanistan is a complex country in a complex situation as we speak. As you mentioned, I held one of the highest positions that women could hold in the previous administration. And there was a lot of fear about me returning back to a country that is painted and viewed by world reporting as the most dangerous place on earth for women to be. And of course, I had to go with that fear in mind. But I have to be fair and honest to say that from the minute I landed back in Kabul and I traveled to Kandahar, which is my hometown and back to the U.S., the whole trip lasted about 20 days. I have to say that, yes, things have changed.

"Things have drastically changed from what I had been living for 20 years, from 2003 until 2021 when I was forced to flee. However, as a woman, I did not feel threatened. I did not feel driving in the cars that there was actually anybody following me or stopping me or warning me to do things a certain way. Of course. I've also learned through age and experience that you have to learn to be wise and make decisions and choices appropriate to the space and the environment that we're in. And so, of course, I had to make those choices and decisions. Being a woman, of course, dressing differently, covering way more than I did prior to the fall last year.

"But I did see, I'm not denying my sisters reporting on how she's living because, of course, every single story in every single situation is different. And that's what makes Afghanistan a complex society and a complex country. But I was also surprised to see women on the streets shopping both in Kabul and in Kandahar. ... The day I arrived in Kandahar was the day the announcement was made that women will no longer be able to work in NGOs, but private sector entities such as small businesses or medium sized businesses. The women that I'm working in supporting in Kandahar, they continued to come and work. But they are dressed according to the norms and the traditions that the Taliban are putting in place, or the traditions that existed prior to the fall of Kabul.


"Now, we have to also remember, I want the audience to remember that Kabul is in the capital of Afghanistan. So the social context of Kabul has always been very different than the rural, provincial lifestyle. And of course, that makes it different because the changes that women in Kabul have seen are far more drastic than the changes that women in the provinces have seen."

On educating women in Afghanistan 

Najia Naseem: "There are differences in terms of the social norms in the big cities of Afghanistan and also in the provinces or remote areas. But when it comes to the rights of women to get education, no matter where the woman lives in Afghanistan, people are in favor of education. Whether somebody is living in Kabul, which is the capital, if somebody is in the remote area in the other provinces of Afghanistan, this right of education is something that the woman, no matter who we are, that should be given to them. And same with the work.

"It's not only like in private sectors, if they are allowed to work in certain areas, or if they have to go in medical services that the providers of medical services are allowed to go. But when it comes to women who are working, they don't have to work because they don't respect, or they don't apply the social norms in terms of how they have to wear the hijab still or same with education.

"So this is something like to me it is like a clearly a gender discrimination against women in Afghanistan. So this discrimination is unfortunately all over in Afghanistan. No matter it's Kabul, it's other major cities or the other provinces. I mean, everybody every woman is affected from there. The orders of the Taliban in Afghanistan in terms of work, education and numerous other orders to exclude women from the society."

Can there be any hope for some kind of recovery under the current regime?

Rangina Hamidi: "Unfortunately, I don't think we can return to prior to August 15, 2021, the Afghanistan from 2001 until 2021 is long gone. This reality has changed. There's a group of people in charge of Afghanistan that the Afghanistan population did not want, particularly its women did not want, but they're in power right now.

"And so I think what I am trying to convey is that we need to be pragmatic about the situation we're in. I do not see, and nobody in America disagrees with me on this, that America is not going to go into Afghanistan militarily again. What it is doing is to continue the engagement process with the Taliban in the hopes that things can turn around. Will it return back to the way it was? I highly doubt it.

"But I think, again, we need to be pragmatic and realistic about the situation and hope for things to get better with the fact in place that, yes, 55 out of the 82 decrees that have been given by the Taliban since they've taken over have revolved around women's issues. And that's pretty scary that a regime is predominantly occupied with how women live. ... So, of course, that's a major concern for all of us. But the fact of the matter is they're in power right now. They have guns. They have authority. They can kill as they wish. They can kidnap as they wish. And we can sit and criticize all of that which we are doing. But simply criticizing is not helping the situation on the ground.

"And I think as an international responsible community, we need to continue to engage on the ground, something that the Trump administration did not do, by not including the Afghan government towards the Afghan people in the negotiation process. I think it is time for Afghans across the globe to reengage with this administration to figure out a solution, because the last thing that I heard from men and women on the ground was nobody is wanting to go to a civil war again. People are tired of killing. People are tired of destruction. And they've suffered this for 40-plus years in their lives right now."

Would relaxing sanctions help the situation? 

Rangina Hamidi: "Those people who are extremely in very vulnerable situations, they are benefiting from this aid because this is the only source of income or the only source of goods that are coming to them. But I would also say that depending on humanitarian assistance is not a long-term solution for Afghanistan either. The people of Afghanistan need jobs. The people of Afghanistan need sustenance to be able to provide for themselves and their families and their children, through initiatives that they take on their own, which can bring them a dignified living.

"And that would require for our political leaders to engage with the Taliban at a much serious level. In the past year and a half, the world has been treating or dealing with Afghanistan on an emergency basis by providing emergency humanitarian assistance. But I really wonder how much longer that can continue without addressing the critical issue of what do we do with Afghanistan now that it's in the hands of the Taliban?"

This program aired on February 7, 2023.


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Stefano Kotsonis Senior Producer, On Point
Stefano Kotsonis is a senior producer for WBUR's On Point.


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Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



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