Afghanistan: Women Tormented, Invisible – Analysis


By Sanchita Bhattacharya

Since the Taliban’s ‘takeover’ of Afghanistan in August, 2021, the female population of the country, comprising 49.5 per cent of the total, is experiencing severe distress, torture, and violence. Their personal freedom and choices, their very existence or right to life, are at the mercy of the Taliban Regime. A few examples over the past six months illustrate the pervasive nature of the brutality going under this barbaric regime in Afghanistan, where women across every walk of life have been detained, lashed, raped, abducted, attacked, and killed.

On September 19, 2023, the Taliban detained a member of Spontaneous Women’s Movement of Afghanistan, Neda Parwani, along with her husband and their four-year-old child, in the Khairkhana area of Kabul. Subsequently, she was transferred to an undisclosed location. As of now, the Taliban has not issued any official statement regarding this incident.

On August 23, 2023, a woman was shot dead inside her residence at Qara-Baghi Square within the Fourth Police District of Ghazni City, the capital of Ghazni Province. The Taliban’s provincial ‘security commander’ confirmed the incident. 

As reported on August 8, 2023, unidentified gunmen mutilated a 28-year-old pregnant woman, Mahdia, cutting off her ears, nose, and tongue, before killing her in the village of Masjid Gholam Hassan Khaan in the Second Police District of Imam Saheb District in Kunduz Province. Local Taliban officials have confirmed this incident.

On August 5, 2023, a woman, identified as Masouma, was beheaded by unknown assailants in the village of Jilamkhor in Khwaja Ghar District in Takhar Province. 

On May 22, 2023, two female teachers affiliated with Darul Uloom Ettefaq, located in the centre of the Bamyan Province, were beaten by the Taliban for welcoming the Taliban’s acting minister of education, Habibulla Aghaz, who had traveled to Bamyan.

On May 1, 2023, Mawlawi Muttaqi, the ‘commander’ of the Taliban’s security command for Panjsher Province, forcibly entered a house and sexually assaulted a woman at Frubal village in Bazarak, the provincial centre. 

On April 27, 2023, the son of a Taliban ‘commander’ in the Ghor Province, along with a fighter from his group, shot dead a young girl after they failed to rape her in the Sad Seyah area of Firozkoh District. The identity of the assaulter was not disclosed in the media.

On April 13, 2023, a female doctor, Zakera Rahmani, was killed by unidentified gunmen near Chanzi village on the Takhar-Kunduz Highway in Takhar Province. The victim’s husband, was also severely wounded in the incident. The Taliban warned the victim’s family not to share any details of the incident with the media.

The chilling impact of these incidents of violence is compounded by the enveloping environment of repression that has put the very existence of women in Afghanistan at stake. On the Sky News documentary series, “Defying the Taiban: women at war in Afghanistan”, published on December 7, 2022, on YouTube, Mehbouba Seraj, a women’s rights activist and member of the Afghan Women’s Network, observed, 

We are becoming extinct in Afghanistan. Taliban do not want the women to exist… that is why there is no school, no work, that is why the women are not supposed to be walking on the street… 

On February 6, 2023, while addressing the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that women and girls in Afghanistan are now “exiles in their own country” due to laws banning them from public life. 

According to the Summary report of country-wide women’s consultations, published by UNAMA in September, 2023:

…80 per cent of women noted their ability to undertake income-generating activities had decreased. For 62 per cent, Taliban decrees were enforced with increasing severity and without exceptions, leading to a further retreat into the private sphere. Harassment, intimidation, and violence on the street by both Taliban and ordinary men is reportedly an increasingly common reality for women who are seen as defying decrees. Women spoke of psychological issues, including depression, insomnia, loss of hope and motivation, anxiety, fear, aggression, isolation and suicidal ideation…

Furthermore, the provincial picture is extremely grim, with respect to various edicts and orders issued by the Talban from time to time, excluding women from various spaces. The Taliban has been extremely meticulous with regard to suppression of the rights of women across the country. On May 15, 2023, in Daykundi Province, Taliban officials set up a check post where they harass, intimidate, and detain women and girls for not wearing hijab. In the month of April, 2023, Taliban forbade women from taking part in Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations in Takhar and Baghlan Provinces. In the same month, Taliban officials in Ghazni Province banned all local media outlets from broadcasting commercial announcements recorded with women’s voices. In March, 2023, the Taliban shut down the women run radio station Sadai-e-Banowan in Badakhshan Province over broadcasting music, during Ramadan. 

Apart from denying young girls’ higher education, as instructed by the Ministry of Higher Education on December 18, 2022, female students and educational institutions for girls have also been directly targeted under the regime. On June 3, 2023, 60 female students were poisoned in Naswan-e-Kabod Aab School, and 17 female students were poisoned in Naswan-e-Faizabad School, both in the Sangcharak District of Sar-e Pul Province. On April 11, 2023, unidentified assailants set ablaze a girls’ high school in the village of Shokhak in Shahr-e-Safa District in Zabul Province. As a result, all administrative documents and books kept in the school building were burned. Earlier, on March 29, 2022, two girls were killed and another six were injured in a grenade explosion inside a girls’ primary school classroom in Qush Tepa District of Jowzjan Province. 

On June 27, Amnesty International called on the Taliban to unconditionally release Afghan educationist Matiuallah Wesa, the founder of ‘Pen Path’ and a prominent supporter of girls’ education, noting “Under international human rights law, Matiullah Wesa’s arbitrary detention is a violation of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” He was detained on March 27, 2023 by the Taliban Intelligence unit in Kabul. 

The restrictions imposed on the female population of Afghanistan has also resulted in various health and medical-related directives from the Taliban, with the regime imposing discriminatory restrictions on the health care system. As reported in July, 2023, for instance, the Taliban’s Ministry of Public Health announced that only males would be allowed to take exams to pursue specialized medical studies. This follows a ban on female medical students taking graduation exams announced in February, 2023. On January 29, 2023, officials of the Taliban Ministry of Vice and Virtue in Kandahar Province ordered female employees of local clinics and health centres to refrain from going to work without being accompanied by a Mahram (male guardian). Earlier on December 24, 2022, the Taliban also barred female employees of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from coming to work, causing turmoil in the working process of various global health NGOs. On March 8, 2023, Save the ChildrenNorwegian Refugee Council, and CARE International published a joint statement declaring, “We cannot effectively reach children, women, and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without our female staff.” 

As in all other sectors, female journalists and media personnels have also been excluded from their workplace by the Taliban. According to Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF, Reporters without Borders), more than 80 per cent of female journalists had lost their jobs by 2022. As reported on February 1, 2023, RSF and the Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists noted that only 76 media professionals, including 39 journalists, were still working in Kabul, compared to 4,940 journalists in 2020, 700 of whom were women. Furthermore, on March 8, 2023, International Media Support stated:

Access to information about women journalists is still limited…new restrictions have been imposed on women journalists and media workers by the Taliban, which include the following: men and women cannot work on the same television programme, men and women’s work studios must be separated, women must cover their faces while appearing on screen… women are not allowed to select journalism for their university entrance exam…

In an unashamed eyewash, on June 25, 2023, in an Eid-ul-Adha message, the Taliban’s ‘supreme leader’, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, declared that necessary steps had been taken for the betterment of women, as half of society, and steps had been taken to provide women with a “comfortable and prosperous life according to Islamic Sharia.” 

The situation of Afghan women is precarious and the environment in which they are living, vicious. There is no hope for any improvement in their situation in the foreseeable future. Indeed, given the severe restrictions imposed by the Taliban on the daily life of women and girls, at every step and stage, their condition can only deteriorate over the coming years.

  • Sanchita Bhattacharya
    Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management


SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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