The Taliban came back to power a year ago as, two decades after first removing the regime, the United States-led forces withdrew from the country.
As the US and its allies began withdrawing their forces, the Taliban launched a final offensive to win back control of Afghanistan. In August, the group accelerated its campaign which culminated with the fall of Kabul, the capital, on August 15, 2021.
Despite the Taliban’s claim to have ended its repressive ways, a new interim government was unveiled in September, bringing back the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice and enforcing the group’s austere interpretation of Islam. As a consequence, the Taliban imposed several limitations on women’s freedoms since returning to power.
Women’s rights are at risk
Shortly after the reopening of the schools in March, the government prevented secondary school girls from returning to class, and in May, women, and girls were ordered to cover their faces when in public.
Female TV presenters are among those targeted by the measure: according to the International Federation of Journalists, since the Taliban return nearly 60 percent of women working in the media have lost their jobs, more than 90 percent of whom were sole family breadwinners.
This occurred while the religious police said they prefer women to stay at home and not to make long-distance journeys alone. These measures made working women more vulnerable to unemployment shocks.
But while the new regime has not directly fired female government employees, it has restricted women from entering the workplace, paying them a significantly reduced salary to stay at home. In the private sector as well, several organizations have reduced the number of female staff, either out of Taliban coercion or as a precautionary measure to avoid the group’s wrath.
A study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) documented a disproportionate drop in women’s employment in Afghanistan: 16 percent against the 6 percent of the male counterparts.
Prior to the Taliban takeover, women composed 22 percent of the Afghan workforce, reflecting years of social progress in a deeply conservative society like Afghanistan.
“Female labor force participation in Afghanistan has been increasing tremendously in the last decades, in some cases better than our regional neighbors,” Afghan economist Saeda Najafizada told Al Jazeera. “These measures are devastating for the economy as the absence of women in workspaces makes an entire economy dysfunctional” she continued.
Indeed, women-centric businesses were among the worst affected due to Western sanctions on Afghanistan and the additional Taliban restrictions on women. Indeed, a World Bank survey noted that about 42 percent of women-owned firms in Afghanistan had closed, compared with 26 percent of the businesses owned by men.
The banking crisis is leading to a humanitarian crisis
Deprived of international aid, Afghanistan is facing a profound economic and humanitarian crisis.
Sanctions and subsequent banking restrictions on the Taliban by the international community have made it more difficult for aid groups to move funds into Afghanistan. Due to currency shortages in the country, Afghan banks have also limited cash withdrawals.
“The unresolved liquidity crisis is a key driver in what is becoming the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world,” Jan Egeland, secretary-general at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) told Al Jazeera. “But unless the US Treasury and other Western financial authorities enable us to transfer the aid money, we will be forced to work with our hands tied, unable to get that money to the communities who desperately need it,” he warned.
Food insecurity has led to an increase in cases of malnutrition and starvation-related mortalities, in particular among children. According to the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), nearly 13,700 newborn babies and 26 mothers have died by mid-2022 due to a lack of nutrition.
“While there is a lack of awareness within the community in terms of nutrition and healthcare conditions, the worsening situation can be attributed to the deteriorating economic conditions in Afghanistan,” Ulfat said, attributing rising crises, particularly among the urban middle class, to widespread poverty and unemployment. “There is also a lack of domestic resources, particularly access to quality nutrient products, and a lack of transparency in the distribution of food packages among the deserving and vulnerable,” he added.