Today, March 8, 2023, is International Women’s Day. Here at the Ruth Project, we want to uplift and empower through education, and today, we’re highlighting the conditions of women in Afghanistan who are currently under attack.

Women in America and most other countries have been granted basic rights such as the ability to leave their homes as they please, travel without supervision, hold leadership positions, and speak our minds freely when we feel that these rights are endangered. Unfortunately, what may seem like basic rights for us has become an out-of-reach privilege for girls in Afghanistan, as the Taliban has resumed power and is cracking down on the freedoms of women. 

The Taliban is a terrorist organization that came to power after the Afghan government had driven Soviet forces out of Afghanistan, and the legislature was burdened by internal conflict. Some people in power felt that the citizens of Afghanistan were straying from religion and that they needed to bring their idea of law and order to the country by any means necessary. This included the use of brute force and a monopoly of power, all at the expense of the Afghan people’s livelihoods. The Taliban propagated religious propaganda, and in doing so, they banned any items that they labeled sources of corruption.

Ultimately, the Taliban was able to rise to power by promoting vague, universal values that made them appear like an organization for the people when, in reality, they were stripping away basic human rights and developing a system of government irreflective of the values of the Afghan citizens. After the Taliban’s collaboration with Osama bin Laden and the US’s intervention following 9/11, the group lost its power, and the old government was reinstated. Hoping to prevent another interference, the Taliban reconstructed their style of government and waited for another time when political discontent was on the rise to resume their status. Although the Afghan government attempted to reconcile with the Taliban and work together through the High Peace Council, the Taliban saw the government as weak and ineffective and ultimately seized power once again in 2021. 

With the Taliban in charge of Afghanistan, one of their biggest priorities has been women’s rights, more specifically restricting these rights to diminish women’s place and impact on society. Women in Afghanistan are currently prohibited from traveling without a male to accompany them and must wear face coverings at all times in public settings. This specifically harms families in which women are the sole breadwinner, as they are unable to leave the house and provide for their loved ones. In addition to these repressive rules against all women, women in government are facing extremely harsh backlash from the Taliban, as all women in leadership positions for civil services were dismissed from their jobs. The new Taliban cabinet also includes no women and no ministers from outside of the Taliban’s rank, and the Ministry for Women’s Affairs was eliminated and replaced with a ministry dedicated to enforcing dress codes and harsher rules. 

Not only are there no more strong, female role models in government advocating for women’s rights, but women’s education has become a rarity in Afghanistan. On August 29, 2021, it was announced that women were unable to continue schooling with boys and men in any capacity. The lack of female teachers in Afghanistan made it nearly impossible for young women to get the education necessary for a higher quality of life. In the university setting, the Taliban have created such a systematically disadvantaged environment, most women don’t want to get an education anymore. This is severely impacting those in Afghanistan who relied on women to help lead the country, in the government, in the workforce, and as role models.

The horrible injustices towards women committed by the Taliban do not end here. The Taliban have closed down many women’s shelters, meaning that women in abusive households are either forced to return to their abuser or be homeless. Child marriage rates for women are also increasing at an incredibly rapid pace, as some families are finding safety and security during this financial crisis by having their daughters marry Taliban officials. Countless female citizens have been accused of prostitution or immorality by the Taliban, and are therefore subject to beatings and even death. According to recent studies, the majority of women in Afghanistan feel unprotected and vulnerable as a result of their gender and the new laws implemented by this terrorist group. As perfectly encapsulated by Nasima, a women’s rights activist in Afghanistan, “Something died inside me on 15 August 2021, or at least that is how I felt: my hopes crushed, my education irrelevant, my investment in Afghanistan gone.”

Not only has the Taliban committed crimes against women, but their presence in Afghanistan is harming Afghan society at large. When the Taliban came into power, a multitude of valuable trading powers removed their resources, leaving the country desolate and struggling. As a result, nearly 90% of the country is facing serious food insecurity, and almost 20 million people in the country are facing either level 3 (crisis) or level 4 (emergency) levels of hunger and instability. In addition, over one million children under the age of 5 are suffering from acute malnutrition, as the country’s economic system does not support families enough to sufficiently feed all of their children. 

The terrorist organization has also made censorship one of its central goals, which has resulted in the silencing and threatening of countless journalists, as well as anyone willing to speak out against their dictatorship. The Taliban has beaten and detained a myriad of reporters and government officials, including members of the now-dismantled Afghan National Security Forces. State and private television channels have also been banned from airing many foreign programs or anything that may paint the Taliban in a bad light, and Hayatullah Mohajir Farahi, a member of the Taliban’s cabinet, told a press conference that “Ninety-five percent of the visual and audio media outlets in the country have been reformed,” demonstrating the arbitrary rule that the Taliban has on nearly every aspect of Afghan life. One of the main reasons why it’s difficult for us to get a true read on the situation in Afghanistan is that the Taliban has made it a point to bring harm to the majority of journalists who make an effort to speak out in Afghanistan. 10 journalists died in Afghanistan in the year 2021 alone, the majority of them at the hands of the Taliban, and largely because the filming and reporting of any protests have been made illegal. This is why it is so incredibly vital for us to continue to speak out against them and give a voice to the voiceless whenever we can. 

Speaking of giving a voice to the voiceless, many human rights activists in Afghanistan have also been subject to the violent tactics of the Taliban. Their desperate attempts to secure equality for all have been consistently thwarted. According to the Afghanistan Human Rights Coordination Mechanism, human rights defenders have faced arbitrary arrest, kidnapping, torture, and countless other forms of violence under Taliban rule. People are not only being killed for breaking the law, but for speaking out and trying to incite change. According to the Freedom House organization, “Survey respondents in Afghanistan indicated that they and other human rights defenders face significant challenges, including intimidation and harassment (46.8 percent); threats to their life and physical safety (24.1 percent); arbitrary arrest and torture (16.4 percent); defamation and house searches (4.4 percent); violence against family members (3.8 percent); other physical and psychological harm (3.5 percent); and kidnapping and imprisonment (0.8 percent).” These staggering statistics demonstrate the terrifying lengths that the Taliban will go to silence the Afghan people and keep themselves in power. 

In the first 6 months of 2021, the Taliban was responsible for 40% of all civilian casualties in Afghanistan, of which women and children comprised nearly half. Luckily, many groups in Afghanistan are doing their best to speak out against their oppression and reinstate the old Afghan government. There have been many peaceful protests in favor of women’s rights in Afghanistan, as well as restoring women forming civil discussion groups to share and develop their ideas for a brighter future. Besides actions within the region of Taliban rule, many other groups are beginning to band together to cast support for the people of Afghanistan. The entire United Nations Security Council has rejected the Taliban’s decision to restrict women’s education, and a group called Vital Voices has also joined the fight, an organization that contains a multitude of women leaders dedicated to making measurable changes in Afghanistan. 

It may feel that our efforts to bring about change in Afghanistan would be fruitless, as some may feel disconnected from the issue at hand. But if we look at the foundation of our lives, we can realize how truly important these freedoms we may take for granted are, and how, without them, we would never be in the position to be advocates for social change. So, it is our responsibility to help the people of Afghanistan in any way we can, and one of the easiest ways of doing so is by supporting organizations dedicated to helping the cause. For example, CARE is an organization that addresses global poverty, especially for women and girls. It currently has an Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund dedicated to providing support and resources to Afghan refugees. Women for Women International is another organization that helps women impacted by war and conflict rebuild their families and communities. They currently have an emergency fund for Afghanistan that matches donations. Finally, Save the Children is a children’s rights organization that reached 602,000 children in Afghanistan in 2021 and provides emergency aid to displaced families. In addition to giving support, we can continue to educate people about the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and spread the story of the negative impacts of Taliban rule. By continuing to speak out and advocate for what’s right, we can all help change the current Afghan government, and give not only women but all citizens the rights they deserve to live their lives in peace and happiness.

This International Women’s Day, we call on women all over the world to listen to one another and unite for the cause of gender justice. And this begins with listening to the voices most vulnerable in areas of the world that are inhospitable to women.