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Two Years of Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan

The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan over the past two years has brought about significant shifts in the lives of women and girls, impacting their access to education, social roles, and mental well-being. While promises of change have been made, the reality on the ground remains complex and often daunting. This blog sheds light on the challenges faced by Afghan women and girls under the Taliban, particularly concerning education, social dynamics, and mental health.

Education: A Fragile Promise

Education has long been a cornerstone of empowerment for women around the world. Under the Taliban’s previous rule, girls were largely barred from attending schools, denying them opportunities to learn and grow. In recent years, there have been promises of change, with the Taliban suggesting that girls’ education would be allowed within the boundaries of Islamic principles.

However, the implementation has been far from uniform. Throughout the country, girls above grade 6 are banned from attending school. Reports suggest that while some regions have seen a limited return of younger girls to classrooms, many others still struggle with barriers. The lack of qualified female teachers, limited school infrastructure, and lingering concerns about the Taliban’s commitment to long-term educational empowerment all contribute to the uncertain educational landscape for Afghan girls.

In A CBS report, August 1st, 2023 the degrading conditions of Afghan women were mentioned in addition to other human rights violations.

Since retaking the country, the Taliban has barred girls over the age of 12 from formal education, made it virtually impossible for them to work in most professions, and restricted their movements in public unless chaperoned by an adult male relative.

The most recent crackdown was a ban on beauty salons, which the clerics ordered to close countrywide last month, eliminating one of the last means Afghan women had of interacting and earning income.

Despite two years of consistent demands from the U.S., the United Nations, and many other countries, the Taliban has not made any concessions to improve human rights in Afghanistan, despite the country continuing to receive billions of dollars in aid annually.’

CBS Report August 1st, 2023

It is the experience of Sahar that the women of Afghanistan are driven to better themselves and their country, despite barriers. The girls in our programs are breaking strict edicts against education and even have to conceal their true purpose for attending sessions. There are risks to learning in Afghanistan, but for the girls in our programs, the possibility of a brighter future is worth the danger.

Women's Empowerment curriculum is included in all Sahar programs!

Social Fabric and Women’s Roles

The last two years have seen shifts in social dynamics, affecting women’s roles and freedoms. The Taliban has indicated that women can work, but closing many places of business for women, restricting travel without male accompaniment and other actions make working unrealistic for most women. Many women have been forced out of jobs due to restrictions, and in some cases, they have been limited to roles within the confines of their homes.

The social fabric that once included women as active contributors to various sectors has been strained. Afghan women who were once teachers, doctors, engineers, and entrepreneurs find themselves unable to serve their communities and families. Bans on women working for NGOs have led to many organizations leaving the region and those who stayed report they are 75% less effective without women. 

The Afghan economy collapsed after August 2021, as millions of people lost salaries when the US, World Bank, and other donors stripped the Central Bank of Afghanistan of its foreign assets and access to financial assistance. Over 90 percent of the Afghan population faces serious food insecurity, along with a lack of medicine and a rise in malnutrition-related diseases. The Taliban’s actions blocking women from working in humanitarian assistance exacerbated the crisis.’

Afghanistan Country Page, World Human Rights Watch

Mental Health: Silent Struggles

Amid the changes and uncertainties, the mental well-being of Afghan women and girls has taken a toll. The repressive environment under previous Taliban rule has left psychological scars on many, and the current situation exacerbates those wounds. Many girls and women report feelings of hopelessness under the current regime. Sahar hears directly from those most affected, who have been banned from education and face uncertain futures. Our programs work to improve stigma about mental health and give these girls the one thing they need most, hope. 

For many women throughout the country, the limited avenues for seeking mental health support only compound these issues. The stigma surrounding mental health and a lack of accessible resources prevent many from seeking help, leaving their struggles unaddressed and often invisible.

Global Solidarity and Hope

Girls in the Underground TechSheroes course form community despite strict bans from the Taliban.

While the situation for Afghan women and girls appears challenging, there remains a glimmer of hope. The international community, humanitarian organizations, and local activists continue to advocate for the rights and well-being of Afghan women. Efforts to provide education, support mental health, and empower women economically are ongoing, though they face considerable obstacles.

Despite the continued threat of violence for dissent, 60 women protested the ban on beauty salons on July 26th. Per the AP,

Dozens of Afghan women protested a beauty salon ban on Wednesday after the Taliban ordered their closure nationwide. Security forces used firehoses, stun guns, and shot their guns into the air to break up the protest.

“We are here for justice,” said one protester who identified herself as Farzana. “We want work, food, and freedom.”’

AP NEWS, Afghan Women Protesting Beauty Salon Ban

One thing that remains true amid continued pressure from the Taliban, women and girls are not giving up. Those girls enrolled in Sahar’s programs use the opportunity to change their futures. Even more girls and women are suffering throughout Afghanistan and in need of a ray of hope.

Each day, Sahar programs serve hundreds of girls throughout the country, but there are millions unable to access education, living shrouded by hopelessness. As we work to expand our underground programs, we must acknowledge that though we cannot help every girl, the impact we have on the lives of those in our programs is immense. 

Girls graduate the IT portion of the Underground TechSheroes program this July!

As we reflect on the challenges facing Afghan women, it is essential to stand in solidarity, amplify their voices, and work collectively to ensure that their rights and aspirations are recognized and upheld on both national and international stages.

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